Strengthening Science Engagement Fellowships through New Connections and Inclusion

Originally published by the Rita Allen Foundation.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its disproportionate impact on African American and Indigenous communities in the United States has highlighted the need for effective engagement between science and diverse communities. Many other complex scientific issues—from climate change to artificial intelligence to CRISPR gene editing—likewise require new attention to skills and frameworks that allow for meaningful connection between emerging scientific research and distinct sectors of the public.

A new report describes the important role science engagement fellowships can have in closing the gaps between scientists’ interest in communicating with a broader public and their ability to do so. Through real-world experience, curricula, mentorship, and alumni networks, these programs support researchers transitioning into engagement careers or integrating engagement work into scientific careers. The report also points to opportunities to strengthen the science engagement fellowship field, including creating opportunities for shared learning among fellowship programs and improving the accessibility and inclusivity of these programs.

The report, Landscape of Science Communication Fellowship Programs in North America, is based on interviews with 25 key network professionals designed to inform further research as well as provide science communication fellowship programs with insights to help advance their objectives.

The report was supported by the Rita Allen Foundation and authored by Anthony Dudo, Program Director of Science Communication and Knight Faculty Fellow at the Center for Media Engagement at The University of Texas at Austin and Associate Professor in the Stan Richards School of Advertising and Public Relations at The University of Texas at Austin; John Besley, Brandt Professor in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations at Michigan State University; and doctoral student Nichole Bennett.

Dudo and Besley have collaborated on a number of efforts to examine different pieces of the infrastructure of science communication and engagement in the United States, including the communications workforce at science philanthropies, the science communication training community, and scientists’ views of communications objectives.

The report’s recommendations include:

  • Rethinking recruitment networks and the types of fellowship opportunities being offered to increase diversity and inclusion in the fellowship community, as well as examining possible cultural, structural, and systemic barriers to greater inclusion.
  • Developing connections among fellowship programs for shared learning and mutual support in developing more rigorous evaluation and improving diversity and inclusion within science engagement fellowships; and
  • Creating mutually beneficial partnerships with social scientists to help develop and apply useful insights from research related to effective science engagement.