February 14, 2019

Make the invisible in your science community, visible

Posted by Laura Guertin

In 2019, the AAAS Annual Meeting kicked off on Valentine’s Day. And what better way for scientists to show their love than by spending the day in seminars dedicated to Communicating Science. From connecting science and policy to sustaining public engagement in a research center, these sessions provided new information and excellent reminders to keep public engagement intentional and meaningful. I won’t repeat all of the lessons shared during the seminars in this blog post (such as listening to the problems before offering solutions, know your audience, relationship building and trust takes time, etc.) – AAAS and AGU have excellent resources to assist with sharing science.

But there was one statement made by one speaker, Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant (conservation scientist from National Geographic), that struck me:

Who is invisible in your science community?

The reason her question grabbed my attention is because just last week, AGU posted a profile of me as part of the Paths Through Science collection. Here, I’ve reproduced the final paragraph of my profile, when asked to provide advice to students:

Finally, I’d encourage all future and current scientists to be kind to the staff that you meet along the way that are supporting your journey in science. Whether it be the cook in a ship’s galley, the janitor that cleans the floors, to the lab manager that runs your samples, to the administrative assistant that processes your travel paperwork – all are deserving of an acknowledgement and respect for what they do, so we as scientists can do our job. A smile and thank you to the maintenance worker that replaces the ceiling lights in your laboratory goes a long way.

I was incredibly pleased to hear Dr. Wynn-Grant make the same call for support as I did, because these “invisible” people play such a critical role in our work but are never in our Acknowledgements section of our presentations or publications.

Dr. Wynn-Grant and her fellow panelists were encouraging audience members to think about the next time they go in to the field to do work, and when using the local knowledge of the local people, why not refer to these people as “experts”? And is there a way to compensate these experts and elevate them? By acknowledging the supporting individuals, from truck drivers to designated note takers, they then feel like a part of the science community. This can knock down barriers to participating in science because, remember, they are already part of your science work. And you may be surprised by their curiosity and eagerness to learn more about the science they are contributing to. The science become less scary, and who knows what confidence may develop and doors of opportunity may open for those experts…

Please take a moment and think about your entire science community – and not just the scientists. Please encourage your student researchers to do the same. Only positive results can come from starting with this moment of reflection on the invisible contributors, and then, discussing how to make them visible.