SCIENCE EDUCATION, WORKFORCE AND LITERACY

Improving education and opportunities for students and professionals in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is a primary goal of AAAS, benefiting individuals and society, which need science-literate citizens and a well-trained STEM workforce. AAAS facilitates training programs, conferences, awards and internships that reach out to women and underrepresented groups to ensure that society can access the full spectrum of STEM talent.

Science in the Classroom Connects Leading Research to Students

Science education is moving away from memorizing facts and toward engaging students in the practice of science, including learning from original research papers. AAAS Education and Human Resources developed Science in the Classroom, a project that annotates selected articles from Science, the leading research journal published by AAAS, and provides accompanying teaching materials. 

“One of the general themes I try to impart in all of my teaching is ‘Here’s how the process works’ as opposed to ‘Here are the facts of the science,’” said Greg Crowther, a faculty member at the University of Washington who has used Science in the Classroom in his science writing courses. Selected papers cover a range of topics including mechanisms coral reefs use to counter effects of climate change, and how influenza A enters host cells. 

Science in the Classroom relies on graduate student volunteers to develop the teaching materials, which are reviewed by the paper’s original authors. The materials include activities, discussion questions and background information to help instructors of all backgrounds incorporate the papers into their courses.

Second Century Stewardship Promotes Conservation Science in National Parks

David Evans Shaw, a former director and treasurer of AAAS, announced in June that he was making a gift of $1 million in initial funding to create a Second Century Stewardship collaborative research program at Acadia National Park in Maine. The National Park Service celebrated its centennial in 2016. 

The program promotes conservation science in national parks and increases public understanding of the role parks can play in science and how science can benefit parks. In August, the Second Century Stewardship program selected its first research fellow to study how the environment shapes Acadia’s ecological communities. In addition to AAAS and Acadia National Park, the partnership includes the National Park Service and the Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park. 

 $1 Million

$1 million in initial funding created a Second Century Stewardship collaborative research program at Acadia National Park in Maine.

Forums Discuss Unconscious and Implicit Bias in Science

AAAS hosted a daylong symposium for journal publishers, federal funders and researchers to discuss how best to address unconscious bias in peer review, which can prevent the best science from being funded or published. Everyone has implicit biases, as a result of our brains’ automatic, continuous efforts to make sense of the world combined with our life experiences, said social psychologist Brian Nosek during the April forum. 

“We didn’t evolve to be fair — we evolved to survive and thrive,” said Nosek. However, “if we can be more humble about the biases that exist in us that are counter to our values, then we open up the possibility for external strategies to help us uphold our values while making decisions.”

Studies of the peer-review process have shown that African-Americans and women “are held to higher standards to be judged competent,” said Molly Carnes, professor of medicine, psychiatry, and industrial and systems engineering at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. 

Training to help reduce implicit bias provides only short-lived improvements, Nosek said. Instead, he recommended structuring external processes to help minimize bias, such as using double-blind methods that conceal the identities of authors and reviewers, while also encouraging reviewers to accept and become more mindful of the problem.

AAAS also organized a colloquium in December to discuss federal agencies’ efforts to counter implicit bias and increase diversity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

Mentoring Enhances Diversity in STEM

The importance of mentoring was a theme at the 6th Emerging Researchers National (ERN) Conference in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), held 25-27 February in Washington, D.C. The conference, co-sponsored by AAAS and the National Science Foundation, gives undergraduate and graduate students who are underrepresented minorities and persons with disabilities an opportunity to present research posters, give oral presentations and attend career preparation workshops.

Students who are mentored are more likely to stay in STEM majors, said Becky Wai-Ling Packard, professor of psychology and education at Mount Holyoke College, who spoke at a preconference meeting. However, not all mentors know how to deliver candid feedback constructively to help students improve, she said. “I suggest colleagues practice difficult dialogues” to discuss challenging campus interactions that “lead us to dig deep into our belief systems about what kind of workplace we want to create and live in,” Packard said.

Conference keynote speaker Juan Gilbert, chair of the Computer and Information Science and Engineering Department at the University of Florida, said it’s important for younger students to see scientists and engineers who look like them. “If they see it, they can be it,” he said.

Importance of Mentoring

The importance of mentoring was a theme at the 6th Emerging Researchers National (ERN) Conference. Students who are mentored are more likely to stay in STEM majors.

New Career Development Center Launches

AAAS launched an online learning website in May to provide trainings for members at various stages of their research and engineering careers. The Career Development Center’s two initial offerings were certificate-level professional courses on writing grant proposals and an overview of the federal budget process. The e-learning initiative was developed by Science Careers and MemberCentral to bridge professional gaps. 

Users can easily stop and restart the courses, which are 60 to 90 minutes long, as the content is presented in “small, digestible chunks,” said Scott F. Nichols, product manager for professional development and career services. Each features high-quality video, motion graphics and embedded assessment tools. 

Career Development

The Career Development Center’s initial offerings were certificate-level professional courses on writing grant proposals and an overview of the federal budget process.