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Featured Force: Rebecca R. Carter

Each month, we highlight a AAAS member who is a force for science. To find out how you can be a force for science, visit www.forceforscience.org.

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Rebecca R. Carter

Rebecca R. Carter is passionate about knowledge discovery for social good and believes in building innovative opportunities for health with open data. She earned her Ph.D. in Epidemiology and Biostatistics from Case Western Reserve University and is currently a health services researcher at Ohio State University. A true data nerd at heart, Rebecca was named to the 2018 NASA Datanaut corps, where data scientists and science advocates work together to solve analytical and visualization challenges on earth and in space. Outside of wrangling messy data, Rebecca is a state record holder in powerlifting.

Tell us about a passion related to science advocacy.

As an advocate for science and transforming healthcare, my primary motivation is to develop approaches that allow us to meet the patient where they are. My research interests lie in leveraging statistical learning with messy, unstructured data. This interest motivated by my early work on ovarian cancer survivorship. In analyzing the unstructured free text, in this case the survivor’s description of getting their cancer diagnosis, results showed distinct symptoms strongly associated with early and late stages of ovarian cancer. My later work surveyed stakeholders in American nursing homes about barriers and facilitators to antibiotic stewardship in their facilities and crowdsourced a proxy of the U.S. population to identify critical public knowledge gaps about ovarian cancer, antibiotic use, and antibiotic resistance.

Share a story from your past that led to your interest in science advocacy?

When I began graduate school at Case Western I worked as an outreach coordinator through the Center for Women’s WISER (Women in Science and Engineering Roundtable) program. I was responsible for developing a year-long science education curriculum geared towards underserved middle school girls. The goal was to spark their interest in a career in science. I wanted to design classroom activities that reflected what a scientist in that profession might do. I put together activities like making robots with step-motors and scrub brushes, isolating DNA from a strawberry, or my personal favorite, building a simulation of tagging ocean sediment microbes via in-situ hybridization with LEGO bricks. That experience oriented me to how the high barriers of inclusion in the sciences can be obstacles for young girls, and how important it was for these girls to perceive themselves as having equal merit to pursue the career of a scientist.

What science advocacy activity are you most proud of?

In 2018 I had the opportunity to speak about my work on perceptions of antibiotic resistance and patterns of antibiotic use in nursing homes for NPR’s 90.3 WCPN morning show “The Sound of Ideas.” Later that same evening I co-led a one-hour public Q&A session on antibiotic resistance and Americans’ beliefs and misconceptions about antibiotic use. I feel that directly addressing the myriad antibiotic resistance questions, concerns, fears, and beliefs in real-time with the public was an important milestone in my career of using my voice as an advocate for science. Further, it motivated me to look towards organizations such as AAAS for bridging the gap in translating insight from research and supporting lawmakers towards catalyzing innovations for patient-centric health.

What contact have you had with your representatives?

I was honored to be selected for the 2018 CASE (Catalyzing Advocacy in Science and Engineering) Workshop. It was an extraordinary opportunity to learn about how science and policy converge, how funding is allocated, how decisions are made, and to meet other scientists with similar drives to benefit the greater good. At the end of the workshop we went to Capitol Hill to visit our representatives, which was a fascinating experience. The workshop without a doubt solidified my passion for socially engaged research.

What advice do you have for those who’d like to get started advocating for science?

Quite a number of incredible and passionate science advocates and scientists can be found via Twitter and Instagram. These individuals often post opportunities, workshops, conferences, and newsletters. They also use certain hashtags or mentions like #data4good or @500womensci. Information about grants, scholarships, and mentorship can be found via these sources. One way to manage this firehose of information from social media is to track the interesting opportunities and their application deadlines via a spreadsheet and put the dates in your calendar. I strongly recommend applying for every scholarship and mentorship opportunity you come across that relates to your burgeoning interests. It will be slow to start at the beginning, but it’s definitely a great way to develop your own network and foundation of knowledge for advocacy in science.

Opinions expressed are those of the AAAS member and are not necessarily the opinions of AAAS, its officers, general members, and/or AAAS MemberCentral department or staff.

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Caitlin Jennings