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Q&A with AAAS Director of Meetings and Public Engagement, Tiffany Lohwater

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Tiffany Lohwater is Director of Meetings and Public Engagement and Deputy Chief Communications Officer at AAAS. | AAAS

Each year, AAAS brings together thousands of leading scientists, engineers, educators, policymakers, and journalists to discuss recent developments in science and technology at its Annual Meeting. The latest meeting was held in Northwest Washington, D.C., from February 11-16. STEM professonals attended symposia, plenary and topical lectures, specialized seminars, poster sessions, an international Exhibit Hall, and the free community science showcase, Family Science Days.

Running an event like the Annual Meeting is a massive undertaking, a year in the planning. AAAS Director of Meetings and Public Engagement, Tiffany Lohwater, heads this effort and she took some time post-meeting to talk with MemberCentral about some meeting highlights, and previews next year's Annual Meeting, which will be held in Boston.

In her keynote address on opening night of the Annual Meeting, AAAS President Geraldine Richmond talked about science as a global endeavor. How was that reflected in this year's meeting?
AAAS Director of Meetings and Public Engagement, Tiffany Lohwater:
The theme for the 2016 AAAS Annual Meeting, chosen by Geri Richmond, now AAAS Board Chair who also serves as a U.S. Science Envoy and a chemistry professor at the University of Oregon, was "Global Science Engagement." Richmond explained the need for international, scientific collaboration in a recent editorial in Science. During the Annual Meeting, sessions, speakers, and activities emphasized research partnerships and included participants from more than 50 countries. Highlights included special events for meeting attendees hosted by the embassies of Cuba, Germany, New Zealand, and Poland; science diplomacy discussions that included science ministers and advisers from countries all over the world; and plenary talks on global engagement, infectious disease epidemics, and more.

This year's meeting was held in Washington, D.C., the nation's lawmaking epicenter. How did AAAS use geography to promote its exceptional science policy programs and initiatives?
Lohwater: AAAS is based in Washington, D.C., and has many science policy and diplomacy programs, including the Science & Technology Policy Fellowships, the Government Relations office, and the Center for Science Diplomacy, among others. D.C. is always an excellent location for the Annual Meeting, partly due to the proximity of policymakers, journalists, and federal agencies and the scientists who interact with them. Several Congressional office staff attended the 2016 Annual Meeting, and federal agencies that do and fund science were also well represented on panel sessions and in the Exhibit Hall.

Open to the public on the Saturday and Sunday of the Annual Meeting, Family Science Days, has become a hugely popular event, drawing kids of all ages. Tell us what families were saying as they interacted with science in very fun and real ways.
Lohwater:
Family Science Days is one of our favorite parts of the Annual Meeting, since it's so much fun to plan and it reinforces the AAAS mission. This free, public engagement event provides hands-on science activities for the local community and opportunities for meeting attendees to interact with kids and families interested in science. Here are a few survey and Twitter comments from Family Science Days attendees:

  • It was so amazing to see my kids get excited about science. It also made me happy to see that there were scientists of every age, race, and gender represented. Having a daughter, it is so important to me!
  • We had such a great time today! We arrived at 11:00 and left at 4:00. I was very impressed at how engaged all the stations were with the kids. Thank you for such a great family day!
  • The children that attended with me had never seen a science event. Now they have stated that they want to be scientists.
  • Thank you for offering this experience for children to interact with the professionals! Learning by doing is TRULY the best!!

What is being done to attract younger, early career scientists to the meeting?
Lohwater:
The Annual Meeting is a gathering place for the scientific community to discuss the latest scientific discoveries across fields and current science communication and policy issues. The 2016 meeting included several opportunities for early-career scientists to develop their careers and learn more about AAAS programs and science communication.  We also hosted Wiki Edit-a-Thons for meeting attendees and Reddit AMAs with Annual Meeting speakers in a social media space in the Exhibit Hall.

Next year's Annual Meeting will be in Boston. Can you give us a preview?
Lohwater:
The theme for the 2017 AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston is "Serving Society Through Science Policy." The call for session proposals is open until April 22, 2016. We look forward to another wonderful meeting in Boston next year, discussing discoveries in all areas of science and the challenges and opportunities in the science policy arena. If you have any questions, ideas, or feedback about the Annual Meeting, please contact me and staff at meetings@aaas.org.