The 2018 March for Science S|GNS + Student Summits
It has been a loooooong weekend.
I flew to Chicago on Friday morning, and upon landing, didn't stop running around until I got on a plane back to Newark on Monday morning.
Over the weekend, the March for Science held two summits. The larger of the two was the S|GNS Summit, which aimed to gather scientists and the science-curious to share knowledge and establish a community of science advocates, educators, and organizers. This summit was largely attended by people who were undergraduates or older, from many different career areas, all of whom wanted to share their experiences and learn more about how to be effective science advocates.
Unfortunately. I did not have the opportunity to see a ton of the S|GNS sessions because I was an organizer for the second summit of the weekend, the Student Advocacy Summit. Where the S|GNS attendees were mostly adults, the Student Summit was attended by people ages 13-25. They were young scientists or science-curious students who wanted to learn about current policy issues, develop opinions, and find tools to effectively advocate for their opinions.
I'll start with my thoughts on the S|GNS Summit, because I was only able to attend two sessions (technically three, but I'll get to that). The sessions I attended were the Community Roundtables on Saturday night, where I facilitated a group discussion on ways of making new science and science policy issues more accessible to the average person, and the Poets for Science opening session on Saturday morning, where attendees began the process of writing a group poem. I thought that both of those sessions were amazing, especially the Community Roundtables. As a burgeoning science writer, I am always interested in learning more about how other people think science and science policy can better be communicated to people, especially given the sheer amount of information there is to communicate. The Poets for Science session was interesting as well, as I hadn't seen many explicit intersections of science and art before that.
The third session that I technically attended was a talk by Dr. Chris Schaffer (Associate Professor, Cornell BME) on his time as an AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow under Congressman Edward Markey (D-MA), and how he thinks that scientists can become better storytellers and lobbyists to advance their cause. Why is this one a technicality? Well, 1) Chris has been one of my mentors since my junior year of undergrad at Cornell, so this was the third time I had heard this talk, and 2) I was the one who invited him to give it (Thanks again Chris!). Having said all that, it was a great talk regardless, and I would happily listen to it a fourth time.
In short, I thought that the S|GNS Summit was amazing. Criticisms? Not many. On some level, many of the sessions were preaching to the choir, but I don’t think that was a bad thing.
Even though I am writing this back home in my bed, I know that I am part of a larger community of science advocates that I can reach out to and who can reach back to me when we need it. More than that, I know that I am not alone. I think many of us feel like no one is fighting with us, or not enough people to overcome the obstacles, but this weekend made it clear that was not the case.
On to the Student Summit! I was a bit concerned when I landed on Friday about what student attendance would look like. The Student Summit was free for attendees, which allows anyone to come, but also means that registering is not a binding commitment to attend. I went to almost every session for the Student Summit (except the ones I missed for the SIGNS Summit), and every single one of them exceeded my expectations.
On Saturday morning, roughly 20 students trickled into the Lake Rooms at the Hilton Chicago. They sat down and spent the next two days having incredible conversations with clean energy experts, lawyers, advocates, organizers, and social media experts about how they could use the tools they have to become better advocates. They asked questions, had debates, wrote articles about current science policy issues, and challenged the speakers to the point where many of them acknowledged that they had not thought of a particular issue in that light. I'll be the first person to admit that they identified policy issues and posed questions that I'd never considered before.
By the end of the weekend, they were clearly itching to take their newfound knowledge and skills back to their local communities and to their peers. As a closing session, we came together and talked about the next steps that we had planned for Students for Science, and asked for feedback from them about the Student Summit, as well as what types of support they would want if they were to create satellite organizations at their middle schools, high schools, and colleges. We are continuing to work with them now, even spread across the country, to take their feedback and turn it into a lasting movement.