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Janis Johnston

Janis Johnston
Science & Technology Policy Fellowships

2007-09 Energy, Environment, Agriculture & Natural Resources (EEANR) Fellow at the Environmental Protection Agency

As AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellows and social scientists, Sharri Clark and Janis Johnston have used their expertise to better understand security and communications issues. They also met some long-admired people along the way.

The way Janis Johnston tells it, you’d think Paul Krugman was a rock star. Janis met Krugman, a professor of economics and international affairs at Princeton University and winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize in economics, at the Swedish Embassy. “Fellows are invited to meet Nobel laureates,” she says. “It was one of the networking opportunities.”

Raised in Wyoming, Janis worked at a grocery store until she decided to go back to school as a non-traditional student. “I went to a junior college and then earned two bachelor’s degrees—one in math and one in natural sciences,” explains Janis, who now has a PhD in sociology from Colorado State University. As a graduate student she had done program evaluation, so when she saw the AAAS Fellowship notice she was intrigued. “But at first, I thought you had to be a ‘hard’ scientist to apply,” recalls Janis. “Then I saw the word ‘social’ and that drew me in. I knew AAAS valued someone with my experience and training.”

Janis worked on risk communication in the National Homeland Security Research Center at the Environmental Protection Agency. As the only social scientist in her office, she brought something new to the table. “Emergency messages in an acute event need to be informative and understandable without being mired in detail,” she explains. But it is also important to know more about the population receiving those messages for them to be effective. “Power structures, literacy, culture, race, and ethnicity all have an effect on how messages are communicated and received.”