ESA Fellow and AAAS Leshner Fellow: Q&A with Karen Lips about public engagement

Some ESA members regularly practice public engagement, but it often falls by the wayside due to lackluster support from their workplace and time pressures. Four ESA members, who are in the fist cohort of the AAAS Public Engagement Fellows of the Leshner Leadership Institute, are issuing a clarion call to universities and scientific organizations to build capacity and support researchers to engage directly with the public. In October’s Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment,  the guest editorial is “Engagement 2.0: increasing our collective impact.”

In the spirit of supporting their efforts and the call, we posed these three short questions to the four authors to explore what motivates scientists to engage with the public. We’ll be publishing additional blogs from other  three authors over the next month, so stay tuned.

Karen Lips holds a tortoise. Sharing science with the public leads to a greater appreciation of scientists and their work.

Karen Lips holding a tortoise. I wonder how many adults or kids connect with reptiles in a natural setting in a positive way? Sharing science with the public leads to a greater appreciation of scientists and their work—and maybe an entire ecosystem. Credit, Karen Lips.

Our first post within the public engagement series features, Dr. Karen R. Lips, Professor of Biology, University of Maryland

Why do you choose to participate in public engagement?

I have to. I ought to. I want to.

I believe it is important, I believe it is part of our jobs, and I like to feel that how I spend my time is worthwhile.

 I think that if we want to complain about how bad things are in the world, then we need to be prepared to do something about it.

What do you receive from you efforts?

I get to meet lots of interesting people doing amazing things and I learn a lot about how things work, and why they fail.  I have learned about the many different kinds of “public” and the great variety of values and languages they contain.  Especially, I learn that people – like issues – are complex, and that what resonates with one community, might not work for another.

More practically, I often get more work, more opportunities, more personal connections, more invitations, more ideas.

What is the biggest barrier to scientists doing more public engagement?

 Time – I have to make hard choices every day how I will spend my limited time – so it better be something that makes me feel good, is fun, or that is important.  Confidence – I still wonder if what I do is “right”, if it is useful, if I am making any difference at all.

Follow the conversation on Twitter (@esa_org, @ESAFrontiers,@DukesJeff, @kwren88,@JessicaHellmann): #EngageESA, #LeshnerFellows, #scicomm

Look for more public engagement  posts over the next month or so from these ESA members:

  • Melissa A Kenney, University of Maryland, College Park, MD

  • Jeffrey S Dukes, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN

  • Jessica J Hellmann, University of Minnesota, St Paul, MN

Would you like to share your public engagement story with ESA? We’d love to hear from you!  Email for more information.