1 March 2017

Finding Forward Momentum in Local Actions- So…Now What?

Posted by Shane Hanlon

By Christy Till. This is the 2nd part in a 3-part series in which a US scientist reflects on the women’s march, making sense of the current political landscape, and finding answers in local science communication activities. See part one here.

Prof. Christy Till works with students in the EPIC lab at Arizona State University. From left to right:Sarah Cichy, Micheal Huh, Hannah Shamloo, Christy Till and Meghan Guild. Photo Credit: Abigail Weibel

Now, a month or so after Inauguration, it is clear that my post-election fears were warranted. For most of the last month I have felt a mix of emotions as I struggle to make sense of the events in the news every day, educate myself about how we got here, figure what ‘to do’, and keep my research and teaching on track. In particular, the last few weeks have been defined by a persistent internal conflict about how to frame the current scientific landscape and where to channel my energy. I agree with respected scientists and the AGU who have come out in support for the march for science, and also those who articulate the value of staying out of the political fray to emphasize the fundamental nonpartisan nature of science”

I see merits in both sides of the debate regarding whether or not there is a “war on science.” And I cannot escape this discourse; every conversation with colleagues inevitably turns to it and everyday students and postdocs reach out to me with questions about the world we live in.

But as I continue to live with this internal conflict and search for answers, a few constructive ideas have started to emerge and shed light on a path forward. They are local activities and resources that take inspiration from Margaret Mead’s famous quote,

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

and also the idea that by reaching out to help others, you will find answers and help yourself. I share them here in the chance that regardless of your political views, they spark ideas about how to move forward as a scientist in this unusual time.

Conversations – As a first step in the weeks after Inauguration, I started organizing conversations with thoughtful individuals in my scientific communities. Some virtual, the others in person, the conversations are aimed at discussing how we as scientists and citizens of the world move forward. Though we don’t all agree on what to do and that is the point, all conversations have led to new understanding, and some even led to plans for concrete action.

Education – I am also getting involved in suite of local efforts. I am now assisting in an effort to take stock of and bolster my school’s science outreach efforts to K-12 schools in Arizona, with the aim of increasing participation and making our efforts more sustainable for the long term. Wherever you live, there are underfunded schools with over-committed teachers that would value your help.

Mentoring – I work with a local organization that provides peer communities and mentors for first-generation college students majoring in science and physics. ~60% of Hispanic students and 40% of Black students are the first in their family to go to college, and research has shown those with mentors are 10‑15% more likely to advance to another year of college, and improve their chances of becoming part of a scientifically literate work force. Organized mentoring programs exist on many college campuses, such as the Sundial Project here at Arizona State University.

Advocacy – The group I connected with for the Women’s March, 500 Women Scientists, is now over 16,000 strong and is organizing local grassroots chapters (called Pods, like dolphins) to build a deep-routed network of women scientists who support a diverse and inclusive scientific community that brings progressive science-based solutions to local and global challenges.  You can find your local pod or start one in your area with this map and form.

Connecting with communities – There are many other incredible organization’s promoting science-based solutions in local communities that need scientists’ help. For example, the American Geophysical Union’s Thriving Earth Exchange brings scientists, community leaders and financial sponsors together to solve local challenges related to natural resources, climate change, and natural hazards. They have projects that need scientists in Illinois, California, and Nevada at the moment. Other similar programs include the Union of Concerned Scientist’s Center for Science and Democracy and Climate Voices, which brings climate change experts to local communities.

Building scicomm skills – I am teaching classes in science communication, with help from organizations designed to educate and support scientists in our science communication efforts, such as AGU’s Sharing Science Program, COMPASS, the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Consider going to a workshop, hosting one at your place of employment, teaching one yourself, or simply familiarizing yourself with their online resources and sharing them with scientists you know.

Organizing – I will participate in the March for Science on April 22nd. I plan to organize a group of local scientists and students to march here in Phoenix AZ, and utilize it as a communication learning opportunity, meeting beforehand to define our main messages, make signs and discussing effective science communication with the media.

Prof. Christy Till and her research group at Arizona State University. From left to right: Micheal Huh, Hannah Shamloo, Christy Till, Meghan Guild, Kara Brugman, Mitch Phillips, and Jamie Shaffer. Photo Credit: Meghan Guild

Research and teaching – Last, but certainly not least, I am focusing on my work. Doing high quality scientific research, getting tenure, supporting my diverse group of graduate and undergraduate researchers, and spreading the joy and power of science in the classes I teach to a small fraction of the diverse 70,000 students at Arizona State University has never had felt more important. And, it is the rewards of these most fundamental pursuits that give me the energy I need to fuel the other activities that I have chosen to pursue in this time of uncertainty.

“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”  ― Desmond Tutu

Christy Till is an Assistant Professor in the School of Earth & Space Exploration at Arizona State University who leads a multidisciplinary research program that studies the role of magma in the formation and evolution of planets. She previously served as Vice Chair of the Council of the American Geophysical Union (2012-2014).