Incoming Leshner Leadership Fellow Gives Two-Minute Talk to 40,000 People

Meghan Duffy Speaks at the March for Science Rally. | Credit: Earth Day Network/March for Science.

The 2016-2017 cohort of Leshner Leadership Institute Public Engagement Fellows are wrapping up their year, and the 2017-2018 cohort will soon be headed to AAAS for their week of training. While last year’s cohort was comprised of researchers who study various aspects of climate change, the new cohort’s scientific work relates to infectious disease. Their public engagement work ranges widely, however, providing an excellent opportunity for them to learn from one another.

Meghan Duffy is one of the new fellows, and she recently spoke in a very public venue: the main stage at the March for Science in Washington, DC.  Duffy, an associate professor at the University of Michigan, also writes for the blog Dynamic Ecology, and she posted several times there about her experience giving this talk. You can read the text of her speech (including a version showing what she decided to cut out, a behind-the-scenes perspective on crafting a good message), how she prepared, and what it was like to give the speech. Some of her tips include practicing enough to get to “happy birthday level”, and sticking to 150 words per minute, especially if time for applause might be needed (yes, people may applaud at unanticipated moments).   

Duffy studies the ecology and evolution of infectious disease, especially in aquatic ecosystems. Bringing this background to bear in another online communication effort, Duffy wrote an opinion piece for Ensia, the online magazine produced by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. She advocated for preserving environmental protections by focusing on the example of Onondaga Lake, and the $1 billion that could have been saved if it hadn’t required a massive cleanup effort. She drives her point home by making these issues relatable and concrete:

“No one wants to deal with excessive regulation. But no one wants their favorite fishing site polluted, their swimming beach closed or their drinking water compromised. No one wants Superfund sites in their communities. And no one wants to shoulder the extremely high costs of cleaning up sites once they’ve been polluted. We are all stakeholders when it comes to clean water, and we all pay dearly when our waters are polluted.”

In addition to public speaking and online engagement, Duffy’s primary public engagement activities focus on leading hands-on, science-based activities for K-12 students, including those in the University of Michigan’s Wolverine Pathways program. Her goals include helping the students develop skills for using data to answer questions they’re interested in – and how to present that data in an accessible way.

In describing what motivates her, she says, “Public engagement, especially aimed at broadening opportunities [in STEM], is important to me because I see no reason why the opportunities that are available to children growing up in privileged neighborhoods shouldn’t be available to other children, too. To paraphrase Dr. Mark Schlissel, talent is evenly distributed in the population, but opportunity is not. That is both fundamentally unfair and also means that society is missing out on the ideas and talents of people who currently do not have access to opportunities.”