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Calling All Early-Career Public-Engagers

Yesterday, physicist Chad Orzel from ScienceBlogs’ Uncertain Principles called out a disturbing trend in academia: When it comes to tenure decisions and grant reviews, he says, engaging in public outreach is all too often considered an impediment to success.

People are generally in favor of outreach activities, of course, but in the same diffuse way that the general public is in favor of tax increases. If you ask them whether they’re in favor of outreach to the general public, they’ll say yes, but pressed to support it in a concrete way, they’ll find reasons not to. Any discussion of outreach requirements like the NSF’s infamous “broader impact” criteria invariably includes the argument that forcing scientists to do outreach as a condition of receiving government research funding is a wholly unreasonable imposition. But nobody’s willing to hire and promote outreach specialists who want to do that sort of activity. Directing any significant money toward outreach activities is questioned, because it could’ve been spent on “real” science.

To buck that trend, last year AAAS created the Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science. Awarded annually, the award pays out $5,000 and a scholarship for travel to the 2012 AAAS Annual Meeting in Vancouver. The contest is open to early-career scientists and engineers — defined as being in your current field for less than seven years and pre-tenure — who engage in public outreach. Last year’s recipient, Lynford Goddard, organized summer camps to promote electrical engineering careers to high school girls.

If you’re out there fighting to educate the public in the ways of science, AAAS has a bit of cash to support your efforts. Eligibility and application information can be found here.