Lab Manager | Run Your Lab Like a Business
Happy and confident female researcher in lab coat and gloves in her lab
iStock, Morsa Images

Public Engagement Benefits Scientists

Researchers examine how public engagement impacts scientists during the INSPIRE program

by American Institute of Biological Sciences
Register for free to listen to this article
Listen with Speechify

The positive effects of scientist engagement with the general public are well documented, but most investigations have focused on the benefits to the public rather than on those performing engagement activities. Writing in BioScience, Nalini Nadkarni of the University of Utah and colleagues "reverse the lens" on public engagement with science, discovering numerous benefits for scientists involved in these efforts.

The authors distributed pre- and post-event surveys to individuals who are incarcerated in a state prison and a county jail as part of the Initiative to Bring Science Programs to the Incarcerated (INSPIRE) program, through which scientists present informal scientific lectures in carceral settings. This sort of engagement is particularly important, say the authors, given the growing emphasis among funding agencies and in academia on broadening the reach of science to include scientifically underserved groups.

Get training in Risk Communication and Decision-making and earn CEUs.One of over 25 IACET-accredited courses in the Academy.
Risk Communication and Decision-making Course

The results of the surveys were striking, with 100 percent of the scientist participants reporting that they would recommend the program to their colleagues. Scientists who gave lectures also reported an increased interest in taking action on issues related to social justice, with one respondent stating, “It has motivated me to take more actions. A couple of years from now, I plan to design programs for young adults from minority families.”

The experience also produced significant counterstereotypical effects, in which negative preconceived notions were dramatically shifted by their experiences. "My interaction with incarcerated individuals really opened my eyes. Previously, these individuals were a number or statistic that I hear on the news. After meeting individuals, I felt empathy for people in this situation," said one respondent.

The authors are hopeful about the prospects for the expansion of such programs, for the benefit of scientists and people who are incarcerated alike. They note that the program is cost-effective and accessible, as they calculated that if only 10 percent US scientists were to engage in similar work, that would result in a ratio of 95 scientists per correctional facility, and "every incarcerated person in the United States would have access to a scientist’s presentation."

- This press release was provided by the American Institute of Biological Sciences