Modernizing the Relationship between Scientists and the Public

Authors: Mary Woolley, Jenny Luray and Sarah Ackerman


The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed science to the forefront of public attention. For many Americans, following daily reports about the novel coronavirus represents the first time they are seeing science and scientists operate in “real time”. This experience is new for scientists too. Scientists are not trained to engage the public, despite the fact that scientific research is put to work daily to help improve lives, address the needs of diverse communities, and solve problems at a national and global scale.

This proposal offers a set of actions to give federally-funded Ph.D. students in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), specific training to enable them to engage effectively with the public. In turn, this will increase trust in and support for the scientific enterprise, drive stronger interest in STEM careers, set the stage for faster response to threats, and build a stronger, science-driven U.S. economy. Lastly, at a local level, taxpayers will benefit directly as more scientists are trained to engage regularly and meaningfully with schools, community institutions, and local governments.

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About the Authors

Mary Woolley is the president and CEO of Research!America. Woolley is an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine and served two terms on its Governing Council. She is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and serves on the National Academy of Sciences Board on Higher Education and the Workforce, having previously served on the Board of Life Sciences. Woolley is a Founding Member of the Board of Associates of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research. She has a 30-year publication history on science advocacy and research related topics and is a sought-after speaker

Jenny Luray is Vice President of Strategy and Communications at Research!America. Jenny served as Chief of Staff to former Senator Barbara Mikulski, Legislative Director to Congresswoman Nita Lowey and Deputy Assistant to the President in the Clinton White House. She directed U.S. policy and government affairs for life-science and medical-technology companies BD and Abbott, and led the Susan G. Komen Advocacy Alliance as its president. Jenny is a member of the Governing Committee of the FDA-supported NESTcc, and the Advisory Council of the Brown University School of Public Health.

Sarah Ackerman is a Science Policy Fellow at Research!America. She received her Ph.D. in biomedical science from the Rockefeller University in 2019. Her Ph.D. focused on the link between breast cancer and obesity. While at Rockefeller, Sarah led the Science and Education Policy Association (SEPA), a graduate-student-run science-policy organization. Sarah is also a founding member of the National Science Policy Network (NSPN) and served as the Eastern Hub Co-Chair for NSPN from 2018–2020.