New Fellowship Program to Support Community Engagement Professionals in Science

Community engagement managers in the sciences — who foster online collaboration among scientists — will have the chance to hone their skills and build their relationships in this emerging field with a new fellowship program announced today.

AAAS has received a $772,995 grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to establish the AAAS Community Engagement Program. Beginning in January 2017 with a one-year pilot, the program will provide training and professional development for up to 18 fellows, who will be a mix of established community managers and new entrants to the field.

"Community engagement professionals perform a broad range of activities, but there's still no well-defined career path or set of professional development tools for individuals in this field. We're delighted to support the vital role of community managers within science," said Lou Woodley, program director for the fellowship and the director of community engagement for Trellis, a platform for scientific collaboration that is being built and operated by AAAS.

The fellowship will bring together science community managers to engage with their peers in exploring community engagement. The field is emerging in response to scientific collaboration that is increasingly multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional, and multi-national. The program will provide training, including a weeklong intensive course at the start and monthly training throughout, and other resources for a role that requires a diverse range of tools and tactics.

Community professionals like Aidan Budd of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany, identify new opportunities for collaboration, find new ways to bring scientists together to spark connections, and guide discussion among researchers.

"What I really care about more than anything is bringing people together and helping them discover their shared interests, values, and goals," Budd said.

"I see community building and community management being about helping people find ideas for collaboration, then making it as easy as possible for them to make those collaborations happen," he said. The role is an essential one that is "part of doing research well," Budd said.

"The community engagement manager is the catalyst and the glue of the community. They are the face of the organization to its members and play a critical role in the community's success," said Josh Freeman, senior advisor for multimedia strategies at AAAS and founder of Trellis.

Edward Brydon, the online and social media specialist at Weill Cornell Medicine, facilitates communications among scientists on platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Scientists who want to bring their projects to social media come to Brydon, who helps them determine how best to reach their desired audiences on the most appropriate platform. In addition to providing strategic advice, Brydon handles administration and security issues — "all the things that people don't think about when they think, 'We should be on social media,'" Brydon said.

Community managers can help facilitate connections in all directions-among their profession, among scientists, and between the two groups-using tools like the Trellis platform. AAAS launched Trellis in December 2014 in response to a membership survey that found eight of 10 respondents wanted better ways to connect with scientists online.

“It brings together scientists and communications professionals in a synergistic way that amplifies any efforts being made to do so within an academic institution, where they historically have been seen as two very different professions,” said Brydon of Trellis. “This way you can cross-pollinate ideas.”

Recruitment for the Community Engagement Fellows Program will begin in 2016. The first cohort will begin their fellowship in January 2017 for an initial one-year period.

"As a collaborative enterprise, scientific discovery requires vibrant, engaged communities where researchers come together to share ideas, debate approaches, craft common standards, and identify ways forward," said Josh M. Greenberg, program director at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. "The AAAS community engagement fellowship program represents a significant investment in building and nurturing just such communities."