Oct 022010
 
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YOUNG RESEARCHERS WITH THE SKILLS AND DRIVE TO REACH OUT, COMMUNICATE THEIR SCIENCE, AND LEAD SOCIETYTOWARDS EVIDENCE-BASED SOLUTIONS.

Several years ago, Donald Kennedy, the former president of Stanford University, saw that young scientists at his school were having a hard time distilling their work into a succinct, inviting narrative. So he customized the “elevator pitch”: You and a friend—who is intelligent and curious, but not a scientist—are in an elevator together. You have the duration of a nonstop ride to the 15th floor to explain what research you do, what it means, and why it’s important.

Few researchers, unfortunately, are lucky enough to cross paths with mentors the likes of Kennedy, or to be naturally gifted public speakers. But while training in communication and leadership are considered essential in business, politics, and the non-profit sector, in the sciences they’ve long been ignored, even shunned.

Now, as complex challenges—from oil spills, to obesity, to climate change—reveal themselves to be only solvable through the lens of science, the public is increasingly calling for science experts to inform economic and public policy, to educate the broader public, and to inform the civic discourse. Anti-vaxxers and creationists aside, society has become more savvy to special interests that create the appearance of facts where there are none and that stoke controversy where it ought not exist. And scientists, too, are increasingly eager to bring their scholarship towards finding practical solutions. Yet how to better link scientists to society, and ivory tower to Average Joe, remains largely uncharted territory. Andrew Zolli, curator of PopTech, believes it will begin with scientists themselves—by giving them the skills and tools to become more effective communicators and public leaders. To those ends, PopTech this month launched a new Science and Public Leadership Fellows program. Seed recently caught up with Zolli to learn more.

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