June 18, 2013

Why I’m Attending the AGU Science Policy Conference

Posted by Sam

The first question I am often asked when policymakers find out I am a geoscientist is “What do you think of fracking?” As a geodynamicist whose research focuses on subduction zones, this topic is clearly outside my specialized field of knowledge. Nevertheless, as a member of the geologic community my credentials lend extra weight to my opinion, and it is important that I have a well-informed answer and am able to communicate in a way that is both understandable and memorable.


Panel discussion on ocean acidification from the 2012 AGU Science Policy Conference

Such questions are not limited to hydraulic fracturing, of course, and they often range across a huge variety of topics, from climate change to the future of water. The AGU Science Policy Conference is focused precisely on the Earth and space science issues most relevant to current political decisions in the United States and throughout the world. The conference provides a forum for cutting-edge discussions on energy, natural hazards, technology and infrastructure, climate, oceans, and the Arctic. I hope it will provide not only an excellent overview of what topics are important from a policy perspective, but also insight into the key issues within those topics as well.

On the occasions where I am asked about a topic I am familiar with, I find it takes a certain skill to answer in a direct, succinct way. The conference also includes a communications workshop aimed at teaching scientists how to communicate with legislators, the press, and the general public.  The workshop features a panel discussion with communication and policy experts and each attendee will have the opportunity to develop and practice a personal message about the importance of science research. The day will conclude with one-on-one role playing of meetings with congressional offices. I have found these mock-meetings very useful in preparing for conversations with legislative offices during the AGU training for the Science-Engineering-Technology Congressional Visits Day.


Poster session and networking event from the 2012 AGU Science Policy Conference

Once the message is crafted, it is important to connect with the right people. Politics is built on relationships, and we scientists need to cultivate connections with policymakers to have an impact.  The AGU Science Policy Conference includes two events geared towards networking, the Capitol Hill Reception and the Poster Presentations and Networking Event. Both events promise to be a great opportunity to use our scientific knowledge of topics relevant to current policy to both meet new people and maintain relationships.  On more than one occasion I have attended networking events where contacts unexpectedly dropped in, giving us a chance to reconnect and reminding us both that the other person is here as a resource and a friend. I am particularly excited about the event on Wednesday evening, as it is a unique event where scientists and policymakers mingle in an environment familiar to us scientists – poster sessions.

Geoscience issues have been increasingly appearing in the public and policy spheres, and as scientists we need to be a part of the conversation. We may primarily consider ourselves scientists, but we are citizens as well, and it is our civic responsibility to provide our legislators with relevant, informed, scientific opinions to shape the policies that run our country. The AGU Science Policy Conference on 24-26 June in Washington D.C. is a perfect opportunity to develop and present our messages about geoscience topics relevant to current policy.  I’m eager to attend the conference and improve how I use my scientific background to tackle some of the toughest challenges we face in the 21st century.

-Karen Paczkowski, Research Associate, University of Maryland

The views of this article do not reflect those of the AGU as an organization