Redefining recognition: the role for professional societies

Redefining recognition: the role for professional societies

In my role at ASLO, I’ve coordinated or facilitated dozens of workshops and panel discussions geared to encourage and to train scientists to communicate their science to policymakers, the public and the media. What I’ve heard over and over again from participants is: “This is important. This takes time. This doesn’t count towards tenure.” Researchers, particularly early career researchers, are doing the calculus on how to best allocate their time and often finding that their best bet is to focus their efforts on more traditional activities like publishing and teaching. The current academic reward structure often puts scientists in the position of short-changing “broader impacts” requirements of their grants either through the allocation of their own time or cutting funds that would have allowed the investigator to collaborate with individuals in expertise in broader impacts.

This conundrum isn’t new, but, at least from what I’ve heard in the ASLO board room and at our meetings, the needle hasn’t moved on this issue. So when our partners at Wiley publishing called to see if we were interested in partnering in a project launched by the American Geophysical Union to address this issue, I was thrilled to get involved.

Project Redefining Recognition is a multi-society project that is summarized in this recent L&O Bulletin article by Kylla Benes. In the article, Kylla also briefly summarizes the conversation we had in a community townhall at the 2019 Aquatic Sciences Meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Listening to the dialogue between our panelists and audience members, it was easy to see why this was such a sticky wicket. It also became clear that professional societies, like ASLO, could help lead the way in improving recognition for researcher activities in the three pillars of Scientific Communication (including open science), Real World Application of Science, and Community Engagement.

I recently spoke about Project Redefining Recognition at the Wiley Executive Seminar in Washington, D.C., a daylong meeting of executives from Wiley and their society partners. Below are the suggestions I had for how society leaders can lead the way in changing how we recognize the work researchers do. You can also read more in a recent blog post in the Wiley Society News.

Ways for professional societies to recognize research contributions:

  • Write letters of recognition for members participating in these activities.
  • Offer training for members including panels, workshops and webinars.
  • Present society awards specifically for this type of engagement – such as the ASLO Ruth Patrick Award.
  • Offer small grants for engagement – ASLO Global Outreach Initiative. Members have leveraged these small awards from ASLO to get larger grants from local entities.
  • Support internships and fellowships to help students and early career members transition to careers outside academe; such as the ASLO SciComm Internship.
  • Lead by example by engaging on these issues of open science and public engagement.

As we move into the next phase of the project, I’d love to hear from you. Any comments are welcome (email me at [email protected]), but here are two I’m particularly interested in:

  1. What else can societies do to recognize and support these activities?
  2. How is your institution factoring in non-traditional research activities into tenure and promotion reviews?

Meanwhile, check out some of the videos about Project Redefining Recognition on the ASLO YouTube channel!

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