AAAS recognizes scientists doing excellent public engagement with two awards.
Doesn’t it feel great to be recognized for work that you’re really passionate about?
We think so, which is why the AAAS Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology recognizes excellence in public engagement with two awards: the AAAS Mani L. Bhaumik Award for Public Engagement with Science and the AAAS Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science. These awards were created to provide wide-scale recognition for scientists who go above and beyond in their engagement with the public. This provides a marker of the value of public engagement, which we’ve defined as active participation in efforts to engage with the public on science- and technology-related issues and promote meaningful dialogue between science and society.
These awards were created to provide wide-scale recognition for scientists(which includes, but is not limited to social scientists, mathematicians, engineers, natural scientists, computer scientists, etc.), and who go above and beyond in their engagement with the public, and to provide another set of criteria to measure of the value of public engagement activity, which we’ve defined as the individual’s active participation in efforts to engage with the public on science- and technology-related issues and promote meaningful dialogue between science and society. Through these awards, AAAS provides external recognition that helps to build an individual’s profile, in addition to a monetary prize of $5,000, a commemorative plaque, and recognition at the AAAS Annual Meeting.
AAAS’ first public engagement award was the AAAS Mani L. Bhaumik Award for Public Engagement with Science, formerly the AAAS Award for Public Understanding of Science and Technology. This award was established in 1987 to recognize scientists and engineers who demonstrate excellence in their contribution to public engagement with science. Beginning with the 2019 award year, the award is endowed by and named for quantum physicist Mani L. Bhaumik, internationally known for the advances he made to excimer laser technology, which eventually led to Lasik eye surgery. In his view, "Technology spawned by science pervades just about every moment of our lives today. Yet the general public has very little perception of the essential role played by science in this process. Only through a popular science communication program, can we make the public acquainted with the paramount role played by science in our daily lives. Otherwise scientists cannot receive the necessary public support that scientists sorely need in pursuing their goal of discovery and inventions."
This year, we awarded Dr. Esther Ngumbi with the Bhaumik Award for her engagement on sustainable agriculture and ending hunger, her commitment to diversifying the global community of scientists, and her work to change the culture of science.
When the Center established the AAAS Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science in 2010, we wanted to create a way to celebrate scientists who were early on in their careers, and perhaps face certain challenges in incorporating engagement at this stage. These are scientists within seven years of their terminal degree, who probably weren’t encouraged to pursue activities outside of academia. These scientists see the value in connecting with communities around science, but maybe don’t feel appreciated or recognized for it in their daily work. For many of these scientists, this award helps validate the value of public engagement as something worthy of recognition and can help justify precious time away from the bench.
This year, we celebrated the work of Dr. Annette S. Lee, who creates culturally responsive and replicable approaches to engaging underserved populations about astronomy, as well as working collaboratively with native communities, educators, and museums to increase access and share best practices.
In our 34 years of awards, we’ve learned so many lessons about what it means to manage an equitable, fair program that holds up to its ideals. As our understanding of equitable practice improves, so do the ways we manage the program. In the past few years, we’ve recognized how the nomination process, including requests for (typically anonymous) letters of support, presented barriers for candidates traditionally excluded by the awards process.
Given the grassroots nature of engagement work, we had to rethink what it meant to request and provide a letter of support. Would it be more impactful to hear from a dean of students, or from someone who was directly impacted by the engagement? Is it fair to measure a scientist’s engagement work by their connection to prestigious CEOs or academics, especially as we learn about the unequal access to these people based on factors like age, race, education, career stage, or gender? We decided it wasn’t fair, and expanded our request to include engagement examples and personal statements as options in addition to the traditional letters of recommendation to allow reviewers to better assess the impact of the candidate’s work.
>We’ve also made it possible for scientists to nominate themselves for the awards. Through discussions with scientists, we’ve learned that sometimes engagement isn’t valued by their institutions. Who will nominate you when the authoritative figures in your reach don’t support anything but research? By modifying our request for letters of support, we’ve created a path for scientists to toot their own horns about the valuable engagement work they do, and to show that AAAS values their work.
The result: a far more diverse nomination pool than we’ve seen in prior years! We were thrilled to see the many brilliant scientists and engineers who are wholly committed to impactful engagement with the public.
AND THERE’S STILL TIME TO SUBMIT YOUR NOMINATION FOR THE 2022 AAAS Awards! We are accepting nominations for both public engagement awards through 11:59 pm ET on June 30! We look forward to reviewing your submission.