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I came to Duke fairly confident that I would pursue a research career and work happily in a neuroscience lab. My interests pointed to some mix of neuroscience, philosophy and computer science manifesting in my future work. I applied to DukeEngage D.C. for exposure to the flip side of research: policy making. I felt it was important to understand that component as a future researcher. I severely underestimated how much it would validate my multidisciplinary mindset and change my role as a scientist.

I am interning at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in the Office of Government Relations. The AAAS mission is to “advance science, engineering, and innovation throughout the world for the benefit of all people.” They describe themselves as non-partisan science advocates and achieve their goals through a range of programs, from publishing the esteemed journal Science, to local and state outreach. The main project I am working on is a brand new program that aims to encourage and provide resources for scientists who want to engage with policy makers at the state level. Because we are building this from the ground up, the first steps involve a lot of research, which is where my love for neuroscience and philosophy enters.

After watching Merchants of Doubt with our cohort, I realized we are playing the science communication game without knowing the rules. If we don’t understand why individuals hold so strongly to group beliefs and how to approach social tribalism, communication will always fall short. And breaching this gap is the core of my work at AAAS. Many scientists are unwilling to advocate for policy (more on this in a future post), and I want to explore changing that by approaching science with science. The tools we need to reach the public and policy makers are not idealistic theory and political shortcuts but a hybrid of neuroscience, philosophy and a whole lot of empathy.

I cannot predict exactly how this change will manifest in the future, but now I know for certain my work will always involve advocacy. The role of a scientist has been redefined for me for input on the impact of science does not stop at the discussion section of a primary research paper, and lack of advocacy leaves an unmistakable mark on society.