Leshner Fellow Tracey Holloway Gives Air Quality Stakeholders a Stake in Research

Leshner Fellow Tracey Holloway giving a TEDx talk at the University of Wisconsin Madison | Credit: TEDx UW Madison.

Tracey Holloway believes stakeholders should be part of the research process itself. That’s why for more than a decade, she has not only shared her air quality data with city, state and federal agencies who manage air pollution, she asks for their input on research projects as they are evolving. She wants to ensure her work “fills the gaps between existing science and stakeholders’ needs,” and isn’t just “scientists speaking to scientists.” These partnerships have been fruitful for Holloway, who says nearly all of her research contains some elements inspired by the air quality managers she works with.

Holloway is a professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. Last year she was appointed to lead the NASA Health and Air Quality Applied Sciences Team (HAQAST). This three-year program encourages the use of satellite and other Earth-observing tools to improve air quality management and human health (see this NBC News story, “11 Surprising Predictions for 2017 From Some of The Biggest Names In Science,” about Holloway and satellite capabilities). “HAQAST explicitly connects research data and tools with decision-making communities,” says Holloway, “so it’s a really good fit with my research goals and with the AAAS [Leshner Leadership] fellowship.” Her NASA team has asked stakeholders to volunteer as reviewers for their projects, an innovative way to get their input and involvement. Holloway would also like to have more stakeholders as co-authors on her papers.

In addition to engaging stakeholders in research, Holloway has launched a new project in her role as President of the Earth Science Women’s Network (ESWN) called the Science-A-Thon. Science-a-Thon is a one-day online event taking place July 13, where participating scientists post 12 pictures on social media over 12 hours, showcasing a “day in the life.” “A lot of people don’t really know what scientists do in a day,” says Holloway. “We’re hoping to change that, with hundreds of scientists posting pictures every hour.” Although the event is a fundraiser for the ESWN, scientists from all fields are welcome - not just women, not just earth science (to register, go to scienceathon.org/how). 

She says of the Leshner fellowship: “It’s kind of like having a personal trainer… You know what you’re supposed to do, but when you have someone who’s cheering you on and providing support, that really is a good motivator.”

Holloway hasn’t been able to start up all the public engagement activities she had planned for her fellowship year. However, the program has helped her embrace her role in influencing her colleagues’ views of engagement.  She already gave talks about her outreach at career workshops and other events sponsored by the Earth Sciences Women’s Network, where Holloway serves as president. Now, at the end of her scientific presentations to colleagues and students, she offers five steps scientists can take to share their research with the public (see below). She says she has become more “deliberate about the outreach work that I’m doing and clarifying to colleagues why I’m doing it, how I’m doing it, and how they can get started doing something—without being preachy or telling them what to do. I want to make the path to outreach a little more transparent.”

5 Easy Ways to Engage

  1. Learn more about communication and engagement (I recommend Nancy Baron’s book “Escape from the Ivory Tower”). 
  2. Email your institutional press office prior to next research publication.
  3. Set up a “profersonal” Twitter account (“Profersonal” was a term we heard in in our Leshner training - professional, but with a personal voice).
  4. Update your website with a plain-language description of what you do and why.
  5. Say “yes” next time you are invited to talk to a non-science group.

The AAAS Leshner Leadership Institute was founded in 2015 and operates through philanthropic gifts in honor of CEO Emeritus Alan I. Leshner. Each year the Institute provides public engagement training and support to 15 mid-career scientists from an area of research at the nexus of science and society.