Even without a science policy certificate program at UW (fingers crossed!), we already have some great opportunities for scientists interested in educating themselves outside of their particular specialty to become better citizen scientists. The three classes listed below are just some of the ways in which you can expand your communication skills and understanding of how science fits into broader society. You can find the course descriptions as written by the class professor in the course catalogue (and on FOSEP’s wiki), but I thought that I would give a perspective from a graduate student who has taken and enjoyed the first two classes and plans on exploring the third this quarter. These are not intended to be comprehensive, nor do they reflect the opinions of anyone other than myself alone.
BIO 572 Science and Environmental Policy—Dee Boersma, Winter Quarter
Dee’s class is great for exposure to science careers outside of academia and she really succeeds in drawing guest lecturers from many different paths to share their journeys from PhD to current career. With every new guest, each student was encouraged to practice their “elevator speech” describing their research in an accessible and brief manner (a great communication skill for scientists). The coursework included reading a handful of interesting books and discussing them in class, much like a book club, and evaluating scientists’ role in the issues at stake. Throughout this process, students considered when scientists need to put on their advocacy hat or their scientist hat, or when one can choose to wear both.
PB AF 585 Science, Technology, and Public Policy—Howard McCurdy, Spring quarter
This class originates in the Evans School of Public Policy and last year was the first time it was offered by Professor McCurdy. Howard starts the quarter analyzing science fiction and how the dream of what is not yet possible can greatly propel scientific advances. He emphasized that the way in which popular culture portrays science has a drastic impact on the extent to which science is supported or feared in America. He briefly covers the history of science policy in America—one trend being that science is most supported when the country is in crisis, as was the case for the Apollo Project. McCurdy’s specialty is space policy, but he lets you choose which area of science policy you want to investigate during the course—and provides many opportunities to share your studies with the class. The students were a great mix of science graduate students and Evans policy students, which provided for some interesting debates and (I think) moments of greater understanding for both specialties.
OCEAN 506 Writing About Science and Technology for General Audiences–Deborah Illman, Autumn Quarter (first in a three part series)
Whether you want to go into science journalism, or just hone your communication skills, this seems like the class to take. I will be taking it for the first time this fall, so I can’t say much yet, but it’s not too late to register and take the journey with me! I’ve heard very good things about it from another FOSEP leader, so I’m looking forward to it.