Leshner Leadership Fellow Noelle Selin Catalyzes Dialogue with Public, Policymakers

Leshner Leadership Fellow Noelle Selin (right) with her students during a visit to AAAS Headquarters

Early in her career, Noelle Selin realized the need to be involved in both science and policy. As an associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Selin studies toxic air pollutants and how these emissions affect humans and the environment. In the policy arena, she is a member of the executive committee for the International Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant, where she helps bring scientific evidence into public decision-making. She also hopes to convey to other scientists and to policymakers that interacting with stakeholders (such as the people affected by a policy or involved in its implementation) can build a broader base of support for a policy, and their perspectives can also make it easier to implement and more effective.

Selin applied to be a AAAS Leshner Leadership Fellow to access the connections, conversations, and opportunities of a cohort focused on public engagement with science. She says, “Being a Fellow has given me more focus, more strategies, and also the recognition that yes, this is a part of what I should be doing in my position.” 

Since becoming a Fellow, her engagement activities have taken several new directions. Selin is working with a new institutional initiative called the MIT International Policy Lab, which aims to connect scientists with the social and political impacts of their work. Through the Policy Lab, Selin is drafting a briefing about her research to share with policymakers charged with implementing the Minamata Convention, a global treaty addressing mercury pollution. 

Selin also teamed up with another MIT professor, Daniel Cziczo, to teach a one-week MIT Professional Education course on the basics of climate change—the first climate change class within the university’s continuing education program. “It was a great experience, getting to work with a broader set of people who are interested in climate change,” Selin notes. The course will be offered again in 2017. 

At the end of 2016, Selin and several colleagues wrote about the need for “policy literacy” education for climate scientists in WIREs Climate Change. She has also written about her research for the general and science policy-interested public on theconversation.com.

As the associate director of MIT’s Technology and Policy graduate program, Selin continues to provide more opportunities for public engagement within the program’s curriculum. This spring Selin is teaching a class on how science can impact policy and decision-making. “It’s a core class, and I’ve taught it for years, but the question I have now is how to update the material in the context of public discussions about ‘alternative facts’ and decreasing trust in experts. I’m still figuring out how to do that.”

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.