25 January 2021

Translating science for policymaking

Posted by Shane Hanlon

By Adriana Bankston

Presenting an advocacy poster at the 2017 AAAS meeting. Credit: Adriana Bankston

I have always been surrounded by scientists, and grew up around two generations of scientists before me. As a child, I didn’t really understand the importance of science until I started doing it myself. Going to my parents’ lab as a kid, none of those machines and materials in the lab made much sense. Once I got to college and started doing independent research as part of a course, I began to understand what science was all about and why my parents enjoyed it so much. Curious to learn more, I continued down this path until college graduation, worked as a lab technician for a year, and applied to graduate school, where my love for research intensified. I was interested to learn more about the subjects I was working on, and always very studious, but didn’t think much beyond the actual research projects.

During my postdoc, I started exploring other career options different from academia. Through this exploration, I ended up building a career seminar series and organizing a symposium, and these experiences peaked my interest in training. I wanted to pursue a career path that would focus on creating educational programs and opportunities for early career researchers, but could never get a job in that space – I didn’t have enough administrative experience for it, and having a PhD meant they would have had to pay more than the experience I actually had. To an extent through this rejection, I had to find another option.

Long story short, my career pivoted towards policymaking, still in relation to the academic community, to where I realized that I became really passionate about higher education policy and wanted to pursue it. Through the non-profit Future of Research, which advocates for early career researchers in academia, I was able to publish a few papers on this topic and really dig deep into ways that you would study academic issues at a systemic level. Seeing the gaps in the system, one of these projects was advocating for science communication skills to be taught in universities, and we designed a training program that would address it. This was followed by being able to present a few advocacy sessions to early career researchers, and realizing the need to translate their research into language that non-scientists would relate to.

In my current dayjob, I play the middle person between researchers and policymakers, translating knowledge in both directions, and it seems this is where I was meant to end up. I really enjoy being on Capitol Hill as a constituent, but also as an escort for researchers to showcase their work to staff on the Hill. My academic experience has guided my career towards advocating for systemic change and engaging in activities that would make an attempt to move the needle on a few important issues. Communicating science will always be one of them. In order to gain knowledge in this space, I took a few online courses on this topic, and then was able to teach this skill in a few courses. I realized the importance of this skill both in oral and written communication, in particular most recently through the Journal of Science Policy & Governance (JSPG), whose goal is to elevate and empower students and early career scholars in policy research and writing, and utilizing these skills in policy debates. Through JSPG, I have continued to deepen my passion for engaging early career researchers in the policymaking process. I know this direction will continue to be a passion for years to come, as I look to integrate it more into my overall career path, for which science communication is critical.

Adriana Bankston is Chief Outreach Officer at JSPG. Learn more here