Managing the Work: Reflections on a year of science advocacy from the 2018 UCS Science and Democracy Fellows (Part 2)

May 29, 2019 | 9:50 am
Science and Democracy Fellows, along with trainers and fellows at COMPASS, gather for their first training.
Shri A. Verrill, Lindsay Wancour, Adrienne Keller, Tim Rafalski & Emily Piontek

This is the second part of our series reflecting on the 2018 UCS Science and Democracy Fellowship. You can read the first part here

Learning to be an effective science advocate isn’t just about developing advocacy skills and learning about science policy. It’s also learning about how you make advocacy a sustainable part of your life’s work. It’s easy to get frustrated, burnt out, and want to give up when change isn’t coming fast enough. Strategies for approaching advocacy in a thoughtful way can lead to more long-term gains and also make it feel less overwhelming.

4. Pace yourself! Time management and self care are important.

5. Remain detached from the outcome. Celebrate little successes.

4. Pace yourself! Time management and self care are important.

Emily Remember that “the work” is the work of a lifetime – while it may seem as if there is no time to wait, “there will be time, there will be time, there will be time” (to quote T.S. Eliot). Pace yourself! The timeline of the fellowship was not the timeline of the issues at hand, but was a start that led to meaningful and continued engagement, rather than a finite experience.

Tim – Emily brings up a great point that, for me, gets lost sometimes in this age of partisan political turmoil. I would add that focusing on what can be done rather than what could happen and being mindful of the moment allows the opportunity to take advantage of new possibilities that happen unexpectedly.  As an example, I was at a get-out-the-vote event and was able to network with other groups that were also there for a similar event that day. We took opposite sides of the student fairway and engaged more students together than we would have been if it had just been my group.

Adrienne – As Tim highlighted, look to build bridges with those already engaged in community building. No need to reinvent the wheel! Instead, think about how together you can do more.

Lindsay – It was really beneficial for me to have a timeline when planning my events, I am motivated by approaching deadlines. However I had a few very significant life changes last year that led to a shift in prioritization of my commitments. The timelines were essential, but so was extending grace to myself and realizing I’m just getting started, these are tools for a greater shift in engagement, not just tools to complete the Fellowship.

Shri – Be gentle with yourself. It’s okay to share your struggles with your cohort. None of us are alone in these struggles.

Trainer Pamela Chang leads a group exercise at the fellows summit.

5. Remain detached from the outcome. Celebrate little successes.

Adrienne: Grassroots community advocacy work is a challenging long-game and successes didn’t always come in the form I expected during my fellowship. Thankfully, in times of frustration my UCS fellows reminded me to detach from the original goal and attach to each little success — a room full of students and community members at a LTE workshop (regardless if we didn’t get anything published), walking a few new voters to polls, or encouraging one more student to regularly call their representatives. I believe there is a gradual ladder of engagement and getting any individual to step up one rung is a success. Even just passively exposing constituents to a dialogue of science advocacy gives me hope that one day others will walk up the ladder towards more active advocacy.

Emily – As Fellows, our goal was to open a door into political engagement and advocacy for others who were new to the work, or for those who were seeking to collaborate. Who can tell where an opened door will lead at the start? Often, unexpected opportunities became available, and we learned to follow where they lead. Personally, I grappled with some opportunities becoming dead ends, but I learned that did not mean THE end of my work or goal. I just had to keep searching.

Lindsay –  Even if your actions don’t yield the results you were hoping for, your involvement is still valuable. Maybe it taught you an essential lesson to carry into your next action or prompted important dialogue within a partnering organization. I worked to increase indigenous attendance at a partner organization’s statewide event. While we didn’t get the attendance we had hoped for, we learned from the process and the partner organization realized its important to their membership that they are intentional about organizing inclusive events.

Shri – Celebrate connections made and recognize that it’s okay to go with the flow. Things become much less overwhelming when in good company.

Tim – I had to keep reminding myself that a healthy democratic process involves many differing opinions from people who must come together with compromise and common ground.  Engaging in a partisan way can make others feel excluded and or minimized.

Advocacy as a life-long pursuit

We started as neophytes who came to understand that advocacy is a continual learning process. While our Fellowship has ended, our advocacy and teamwork has not. In struggling and striving to enact positive change we developed powerful bonds with one another. Mutual appreciation, support, respect, and willingness to lift each other up after inevitable mistakes, let-downs, and self-perceived failures facilitated the formation of vibrant inter-connections. This sense of belonging to a purpose and movement greater than ourselves is priceless. We discovered that our individual experiences were not separate from other Fellows’ experiences, but rather like threads in a tapestry they provide variation in texture and color, supporting and complementing the other strands that make up our fabric.

Shri A. Verrill grew up in the Western foothills of Maine and holds a M.S. in Biology from the University of Southern Maine where she gained expertise in wetland science focusing on coastal salt marsh, estuarine ecology. Shri is currently a Habitat Restoration Project Manager with the Downeast Salmon Federation, and has lobbied both at the State and Federal level with the Maine Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Council of Maine and with the Downeast Science Watchdogs.  

Lindsay Wancour works with Swan Valley Connections, a collaborative conservation and education non-profit, as their Field Program Coordinator. Originally from Michigan, Lindsay moved to Montana after graduating from Michigan State University and served in Americorps’ Montana Conservation Corps. She then went on to complete her M.S. in Environmental Science from University of Montana, focusing on community engagement in watershed health. After completing her UCS fellowship, she started a UCS Western Montana Local Team and has continued her work in advocacy with her newly formed team.

Adrienne Keller is a PhD student in the Evolution, Ecology and Behavior program in the Department of Biology at Indiana University, where she studies forest carbon and nutrient cycling. Adrienne holds an M.S. in Resource Conservation from the University of Montana and a B.A. in Biology and Geography from Macalester College (St. Paul, MN). In addition to her research in ecosystem ecology, Adrienne is an active member of the newly formed, grassroots organization Concerned Scientists @ IU.

Tim Rafalski is a Ph.D. candidate in the Computer Science department at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. He works under Dr. Andreas Stefik conducting empirical studies—designing, running, and implementing programming language experiments—to validate scientific computing design and organization. Outside of the lab, Tim is a math and science tutor for students in elementary school through college, and he helps organize and participate in community elevating educational events.

Emily Piontek is seeking her master’s degree in Human Dimensions of Natural Resource Management at the University of Missouri - Columbia. She believes that climate solutions and common-pool-resource protections require a combination of political action and the fostering of place-based environmental values in our communities. In her classes and as a research assistant, she studies the relationship between human behavior and natural resources.

The UCS Science Network is an inclusive community of more than 25,000 scientists, engineers, economists, and other experts, focused on changing the world for the better. The views expressed in Science Network posts are those of the authors alone.