How Important is 'Community' in STEM?
Updated: Nov 3, 2022
One of the key themes in human behavior is wanting to be a part of something larger than yourself. It is a founding principle of humanity – to offer yourself to the greater good, to help others, and to support those you love.
In many ways, these are the same reasons the great minds of the human race developed the STEM sciences: in the pursuit of discovery to explore, understand, and ultimately create a better tomorrow.
It may seem rather ironic that those that make up the science 'community’ suffer from alienation and very little community at all. In truth, the ways that we have promoted great scientific innovation has had very little to do with 'community'. Unlike other industries, the STEM fields historically have relied heavily on the adulation of the few. The household names we know – like Albert Einstein, Rosalind Franklin, and Steve Jobs – are rare instances that receive critical acclaim. In reality, great science is a result of a comprehensive support system. But the traditional standards and pressures placed on academia and research today have instead created a field of isolation for most scientific teams.
This is where we have seen the most damage from an improper sense of 'community' in STEM fields. Instead, competition and glory-seeking have added to the growth of broken links in the innovation chain. Consequently, it has become even more difficult than ever to convert exciting and innovative new research into practice. We’ve seen this in a variety of capacities – groundbreaking therapies, progressive new medical devices, and advanced new methods for infectious disease diagnostics – they all face an uphill battle in getting implemented. Even with access to more effective technology, many medical systems are using protocols that haven’t been updated in 30 years. Though competition and funding may be an issue, I propose it’s the lack of 'community' support among scientists (and investors) that is perpetuating this cycle.
But what can 'community' do? How does it enact change, and what can we learn from it?
Simply put, ‘community’ refers to not just a grouping of people; it is a feeling of fellowship with others sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals. The STEM community contains more than just scientists and engineers – it is also comprised of all those that support them. It requires specialists in the field to be the technicians who develop new research, the risk-taking leadership to push boundaries, the forward-thinking investors to fund, and passionate communicators to represent it, increase public awareness, and build support.
Then, it requires a cumulative effort to make that science accessible to others. Whether your role is to create, fund, market, or mediate it, converting innovation into action is a community venture. Making a difference requires an entire movement. It requires being antifragile in the face of scientific advancement. Embrace the concept of fluidity, change, and teamwork in innovation and work to establish authentic relationships. Only then can the world readily accept that change into their lives.
Science is not solitary - it is a collective effort.
But rather than promote community, many aspects of the STEM collective unintentionally stifle it. How the system rewards and supports innovation is essentially harming it. One such way is by promoting the exclusive use of technical language in how we award funding for research – these efforts are reducing the efficacy in establishing a society that is open and accepting of its dynamic application. We have developed a scientific class system rather than an open forum of community among all.
When I launched my company Validity Science Communications, it was with the hope that I could assure researchers and STEM professionals that I am here to offer the support they need to better communicate their discoveries and uphold the integrity of their research. But my greatest aspiration is to support the research ecosystem in taking their innovation and broadening the sense of 'community' in science by improving its accessibility to all. By helping science companies and organizations tap into the limitless potential of plain language and helping them educate the general public, we can overcome many of the challenges science firms face in implementing their technology.
The name of my company – Validity – represents the need to develop and communicate valid research in a manner that helps promote the use of it in real life.
To do this, we must embrace a paradigm shift in the STEM fields:
1. Let us better establish a sense of 'community' in STEM.
This is essentially a first step in broadening the perspectives of our global society. By making it more collaborative, we can reshape the misconceptions of competition and glory often found in research and innovation. Remove the 'cut-throat' approaches in science and embrace community to remind the world that the fundamental principles of science were built on bettering the world; not determining who is better.
2. Increase the reach of science by making it more accessible and easier to understand for all.
The greatest obstacle scientists face is the unintentional ignorance of those outside the field of science. More proactive efforts to educate and connect with the general public can ultimately build the bridge necessary for innovation to flourish. Increase how science is understood and we can improve - and excite - the general public's attitude toward change. Ultimately, this path can actually defy the friction that often coincides with technological advancements.
It takes a village to raise a child, but it takes a community to change the world for good.