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Q&A with Caroline A. Montojo: Candidate for AAAS president-elect

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Caroline A. Montojo; Photo Credit Caroline A. Montojo.

Neuroscience researcher turned philanthropy president Caroline A. Montojo is running for AAAS president-elect. AAAS Members will be casting their votes between January 24 and February 5, 2024.  

Montojo is president and CEO of the Dana Foundation. She serves on the Advisory Board of the Science Philanthropy Alliance and is a member of the US NIH BRAIN Initiative Neuroethics Working Group. At the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, she investigated neural biomarkers for psychiatric illness for which she received the Arnold Scheibel Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellow in Neuroscience Award and the Stephen R. Mallory Schizophrenia Research Award. She holds a doctorate in psychological and brain sciences from Johns Hopkins University. 

The AAAS's mission to advance science and serve society deeply inspires me, and I am eager to contribute my unique perspective as a leader in science philanthropy, a supporter of the AAAS, and a catalyst for international science initiatives. As a first-generation PhD graduate in my Filipino family, I aim to serve as a generational and cultural bridge, inspiring emerging scientists from underrepresented backgrounds to enrich research and technology development for the benefit of all people. The vibrant action and engagement within the AAAS community, coupled with my experience collaborating with talented AAAS fellows and members, fuel my enthusiasm to contribute to the organization's impactful mission and build upon previous achievements.

Caroline A. Montojo

What unique role(s) can/should AAAS play in the scientific enterprise? 

AAAS has a unique role to play in the scientific enterprise through its unyielding commitment to advancing science, engineering, and innovation for the benefit of all. In the current landscape, where misinformation and disinformation about science are on the rise, AAAS should continue building trust among scientists and communities. Scientific discoveries and technological advances hold the potential to profoundly affect people's lives, and AAAS should help to maximize the impact of these advances to solve the world's most significant challenges. 

As the world's largest multidisciplinary scientific society, AAAS is well-positioned to carry out its mission to advance science and serve society. Its international, mobilized, inclusive, and engaged community provides remarkable reach and diversity. The Science family of journals further extends this reach by curating and disseminating important research findings. AAAS should continue to foster an equitable and open scientific enterprise, inviting perspectives from diverse backgrounds into the research setting. It should also focus on preparing the next generation of scientists for success in their careers, whether they be in research labs, policy, education, public engagement, and other fields. 

I am particularly excited by AAAS's role in promoting science-informed decisions and policy actions. AAAS should continue its legacy of building trust and meaningful dialogue with policymakers, journalists, faith leaders, legal professionals, and other societal influencers. This will help solidify AAAS's position as a respected source of accurate scientific information that can counter misinformation. 

What are the 2-3 most important items for which AAAS can advocate?

Incorporate scientific understanding and evidence into public policy. The US President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released a letter in August 2023 to promote the development of public policies informed by scientific understandings and community values through inclusive dialogue among scientists, policymakers, and the public. AAAS has an excellent history of supporting scientists and engineers to use their knowledge to address today’s most pressing societal challenges. I believe this model could be extended and embedded further in local and state levels to enrich decision-making with scientific understanding. 

Engage meaningfully with communities to foster trust, strengthen understanding of science, and invite diverse perspectives into research. AAAS has a longstanding commitment to promoting public engagement with science. AAAS should continue to advocate for and support innovative approaches to goal-oriented, multidirectional public engagement to help foster trust between various communities, including patients, researchers, and professionals. Engaging with communities can also enhance research and technology development for the benefit of society. 

Increase cross-disciplinary training for the next generation of scientists to understand science within a societal context. AAAS is dedicated to promoting scientific excellence and achievement. To enhance the training of future scientists and engineers, it is important to expose them to the ethical, historical, and societal context of science. This exposure can broaden their knowledge, practical skills, and networks of expertise during the early stages of their careers. By understanding the broader implications of scientific research, these trainees can become future leaders who are better equipped to use science for the greater good and create a brighter future for all. 

What excites or inspires you most about the future of the scientific enterprise, and, more specifically, AAAS’ role in that future?

Scientists are increasingly recognizing the value of listening to the goals and values of communities, which holds the potential to catalyze new research and technology development. In particular, I find great inspiration in the next generation of scientists, who are dedicated to enhancing the impact of science on society. Their stories remind me of my own journey as a budding neuroscientist, striving to make a positive difference in the lives of people affected by brain-based conditions. These trainees are committed to considering science within ethical, societal, and historical contexts, and are interested in bringing scientific knowledge to local communities through outreach and education. 

I am excited about the role that organizations like AAAS will play in advancing science, innovation, and engineering for the benefit of society. There is a growing recognition among science organizations and research institutions worldwide that it is essential to strengthen the relationship between science and society. By working together to advance science and serve society, I am optimistic about the future of science and its positive impact on our lives. 

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Caroline A. Montojo
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Kat Song

Senior Marketing & Communications Manager