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FOJBI Friday: Meet Michael Parker, Public Speaker For Science

FOJBI Michael Parker (Courtesy of Michael Parker)closemore
FOJBI Michael Parker (Courtesy of Michael Parker)

The "Friends of Joe's Big Idea" is a vibrant community of talented people we think you should meet. With our feature FOJBI Friday we're introducing some of these cool communicators of science in their own words. This week: Michael Parker.

Background

I am a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Immunobiology at Yale University. In general, I study how cells respond when they first recognize that they are infected by a virus. One of the most effective ways cells do this is by detecting RNA or DNA from the virus as it enters and replicates. My project focuses on the pathways involved in detecting DNA during virus infection; I'm interested in describing the types of DNA involved in this response.

Give them what they paid for

My view of communicating science to the public has always had two dimensions. First, and most obvious, is the importance of getting the public engaged and excited about science. This not only leads to appreciation of advances that are made but feeds the scientific engine through citizen scientist programs and helps recruit the next generation of scientists. However, from a more practical standpoint, communicating science in an interesting way is a service we owe the taxpayer. After all, they are ultimately the ones who fund the research grants and fellowships the government distributes to laboratories and universities. In this regard, engaging the public in science can serve as a positive feedback loop; if we convey exciting discoveries, the public and lawmakers will see the utility of scientific research.

The art of science communication

As I became a more experienced scientist, I began to give public science talks through Portal to the Public and Science in the News. I earned a studio art minor in college and have tried to use what I learned there to be creative with the ways I communicate science. I've designed logos, posters, brochures and so on for a variety of science communication outlets including the Connecticut Science and Engineering Festival and the Yale Immunobiology Student Symposium. Recently I was selected to give a TEDx talk in September at the 2016 installment of TEDx Lancaster in Pennsylvania, where I hope to take the impact of my science communication efforts to the next level. My talk will focus on the role of microbes in the development, evolution and history of human beings and the importance of understanding our microbial world to better understand ourselves as humans.

Future plans

I'm most interested in working at the interface of policy decisions and research science, to try to improve how we perform science. To this end, I can see myself conducting research in a government laboratory after graduation and using this as a platform into policy and decision-making roles within the government. I'm most passionate about reforming the way we fund science and changing the factors the scientific community deems important for a career in science. These ends could also be met via participation in one of the numerous government and policy fellowship programs available to newly minted Ph.D.s, so I am also considering applying for these after graduation.

Copyright NPR 2016.

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