The Value of Public Engagement

Engagement and outreach activities have not been — and often are still not — seen as a main focus of scientific careers. Since not all administrators value public engagement equally, many individual scientists feel they cannot seek out such opportunities due to time or resource constraints. Or worse, they fear taking time to engage could garner disdain from colleagues who see activities out of the lab as a waste of time. What can you do in these situations? How can you help enhance public engagement within your field?

Talk to Your Supervisor: Never assume you will be told you can't take time to engage with the public. If you approach your supervisor with specific events or ideas in mind, you may be surprised by his or her response. Many supervisors may appreciate a proactive attempt to build broader interest in your work, particularly if it relates to a current or pending project.

Ask for Advice: Contact scientists involved in the kinds of engagement activities you would like to pursue, and ask them how they got started. Talking to others about how they got started with engagement and about what (if any) pushback they received can help you prepare for those opportunities yourself.

Strength in Numbers: You're most certainly not the only one interested in public engagement programs in your field or community. Start asking colleagues, acquaintances and others at your institution, your society, or in your community if they would like to work together to identify and pursue opportunities.

Reach Across Disciplines: Don't think that just because you work in, say, astronomy that you can only talk about engagement with other astronomers. Scientists across all disciplines who engage with the public face many of the same situations and challenges. Look beyond your lab and you just might find someone else in your shoes.

Link to funding: Many publicly-funded grants require activities like the Broader Impacts Criterion from the National Science Foundation. Leverage these funds to cover the time you spend on public engagement and to earn recognition for this work.

Spread the Word! The best way to help make public engagement part of the regular work of scientists is to spread the word about its importance. One way to do this is to nominate a fellow scientist for the AAAS Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science, start your own institutional award, help out at engagement events, and discuss with your colleagues, neighbors, and friends.

Find opportunities to participate in public engagement.