Does it seem to you that the past few years have produced a steady stream of economic and professional challenges? Many chemistry jobs have disappeared, venture capital for start-ups is scarce, and federal funding for scientific research is on the block again. Taken together, these trends pose a daunting and perplexing challenge that could cause us to throw up our hands in surrender. However, I think there comes a tipping point when we must say, “Enough is enough; surrender is not an option. I need to help do something!”
I know that change—including getting involved—can be uncomfortable. Over my 48 years as an American Chemical Society member, I transitioned from scientist to businesswoman; helping leaders get results is my passion. Last year, I ventured into new territory, becoming chair of the Board Standing Committee on Public Affairs & Public Relations. Since then, I’ve gained a whole new outlook on how ACS advocates for science in the broadest sense.
Advocacy influences public opinion and helps shape the policies, laws, and regulations that affect chemical businesses, scientific research, and higher education. Advocacy can occur anytime, with anybody, including family, neighbors, teachers, elected officials, and the media. When we advocate for science, we help create a world that values science, scientific education, and use of the scientific method to solve problems. For example, in 2012, ACS and its members helped secure the first real reform to U.S. patent laws in 40 years.
Advocacy may sound daunting, but it is very important. Consider starting simply, so you can gradually build your “advocacy muscles.” Write a letter to the editor of your local paper urging your school board to budget more for microscopes, for instance, or making the case for a research park to encourage new start-ups. Contribute to the public dialogue by reading blogs on science funding issues—like the March 1 federal sequestration deadline—and sharing your thoughts on Facebook. Go to the ACS Network for information on science related to current issues such as climate change, and use this material to dispel misinformation. Promote discussions about science by sharing relevant newspaper articles with others, including your state and federal elected representatives. Take time to post online comments on these articles; editors notice which discussions attract the greatest reader response.
Most of us were not trained in advocacy. However, there is good news: ACS has many programs to help us. The ACS Chemistry Ambassadors program offers materials and services to help us communicate and advocate for science more effectively. Chemistry Ambassadors receive regular updates on ways to support outreach in schools and museums, mentor high school students preparing for the International Chemistry Olympiad, and sponsor chemistry events such as National Chemistry Week.
ACS Sparkle workshops train division and local section public relations chairs on how to get media coverage for their members and their activities, such as symposia and science fairs.
ACS Act4Chemistry action alerts help members provide their legislators with constituent input—the lifeblood of American democracy—on matters coming before them for a vote. Alerts cover a host of important issues, such as federal funding for research, science education, measures spurring job creation, climate change, and support for chemical start-up companies. Each alert links to a sample letter you can send as is or customize by adding local flavor to grab your legislators’ attention. Another way to participate in the legislative process is to join an ACS Government Affairs Committee (GAC). Right now is a good time, as several promising experiments are in progress to increase the influence of these committees by expanding them statewide in Georgia, Tennessee, Maryland, and Florida. For more information on joining your ACS GAC, first register with Act4Chemistry and then contact Katelynn Eckert at firstname.lastname@example.org or Kathryn Verona at email@example.com.
Now, I want to share some personal insights. As scientists, we were trained to be experts in our fields. It may feel uncomfortable to wade into situations where we know we are not expert, where we need to learn and do something new. However, as imperfect as we may feel, we are still the best people to advocate for science and chemistry. Somebody else really can’t do this for us. We are the best advocates with our neighbors, teachers, local leaders, and state and federal legislators because they know and trust us. Remember: We don’t need to be perfect; we just need to start somewhere, show up, and do our best.
Out in the West, where I live, we love our storied rivers—the Rio Grande, the Colorado, and the river that stole my heart, California’s Kings River. Beginning high in the mountains, rivers start as a single drop. Drops join to create impressive waterways that become powerful torrents that can’t be held back. We, as 163,000 members, can become such a powerful force. And just as every drop is needed to make a mighty river, every ACS member contributes to our power. It is time. I challenge you to start now. Roll up your sleeves, join other ACS members, and create a powerful force to advocate for science and for chemists.
Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.