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Wednesday, February 22, 2017
AAAS Science policy conference broadens BESTies views

BESTies Robert MacDonald, Environmental Toxicology, and Steve Halaby, Molecular Biology & Genetics, Charlotte Levy, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, and Leah Pagnozzi, Biomedical Engineering, attended the 2017 AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston on February 15-20. As a result their views were broadened to consider a career involving advocating for science and policymaking.

I have been interested in science policy for some time now, and have participated in several events (i.e. CASE, guest speakers), but this was the first conference geared towards science policy that I have attended. At the AAAS Annual meeting I had the opportunity to listen to efforts being made across the world that give scientists a voice when it comes to policies and regulations.

The participants and speakers were from a wide range of fields and countries, which allowed for a global view of the impact of science policy. The speakers ranged from graduate students to members of parliament, former White House advisors, and her Royal Highness Princess Sumaya bint El Hassan of Jordan.

This conference was also a great place to help those who are interested in science policy answer the question of "what's after grad school?" There were people who could give you information about applying for fellowships, joining organizations, and other ways you could influence science policy without the need of being in politics. Overall, I walked out with a better sense of how I can be involved, my options after grad school, and I was able to establish new contacts for when I am ready.-Steve Halaby

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The AAAS meeting's theme this year was Serving Society through Science Policy, and many of the events I attended were geared toward science communication and policy. I made many valuable connections, including several Twitter-facilitated meetups, with other attendees and experts.

The major takeaway messages were that scientists should establish relationships with their communities by partaking in discussions of both science and other topics; we are seen as highly competent but cold and aloof. The "deficit model," which advocates for throwing out more scientific info as a way to talk about more controversial topics such as climate change, alienates the audience and is a poor method of communicating science. We need to establish trust with the public. We also need to take values into consideration - science alone is not prescriptive of policy. Scientific results may be interpreted in different ways by different people; we need to recognize that nobody is completely unbiased.

The days were long but very enjoyable and largely full of useful content, spanning from events focused on networking and career preparation to panel discussions on the state of science and concerns under the new administration. I highly recommend the AAAS annual meeting to future BESTies with any interest in science communication or science policy.-Robert MacDonald

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The AAAS annual meeting was one of the most worthwhile and impactful experiences toward my career development I've ever had. I started my PhD interested in an academic career, but quickly realized the reality of academia wasn't what I was interested in pursuing. I developed an interest in science policy, but wasn't sure where to start developing a policy network or how I could best inform policy decisions both now as a PhD student or in a career setting. 

The AAAS meeting was an exceptionally long meeting going Wednesday-Monday, but every day was packed full of worthwhile talks. It's a very broad meeting with scientists, politicians, bureaucrats, journalists, and science advocates so it is able to cater to many audiences all seeking to advocate for the sciences from various angles. While the meeting was fantastic networking and opportunity to keep current on what was happening in science advocacy at many levels, it was an even better opportunity for me to realize how I can personally be the best policy advocate now while I finish my PhD.

There are special sessions for Engaging Scientists and Engineers in Policy, Policy and Advocacy, Press and Public Engagement, Global Outreach, Career Development, and Enhancing Education as well as multi day lecture series' for each. Many talks had a round table like format where anyone in the audience could participate in a discussion, and every talk gave ample time for questions. Speakers were enthusiastic and willing to chat with participants after the seminar series and each series had a half hour break in between to give room for more questions and getting around the conference. All in all, I felt that I was able to get a well rounded perspective on engaging politicians and the public for science advocacy and the resources to accomplish that now and in the future for a career.-Leah Pagnozzi