Speaking to a crowd of early-career global health researchers, Research!America president and CEO Mary Woolley emphasized the importance of advocacy for global health research during the 2018 Fogarty Global Health Program for Fellows and Scholars Orientation and Training held at the National Institutes of Health on July 19. “The public puts a lot of trust in science and scientists,” she said, but noted that the lack of visibility is scientists, citing a Research!America public opinion survey that shows only 16% of Americans can name a living scientist and only about a third can name anywhere that medical or health research is conducted.
Woolley encouraged the fellows and scholars to increase their engagement with the public because “science does not speak for itself.” She urged them to discuss their work with non-scientists, have an “elevator pitch” ready in the event they come upon a member of Congress, and to “meet people where they are” when communicating about the potential impact of their research. Fogarty Fellow Kimberly Bonner, who is studying vaccine acceptance among healthcare professionals and access among young adults in Uganda, described the skepticism many scientists face from the public about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. Woolley described ways to deal with skepticism by anticipating and crediting the importance of asking questions, something that scientists are trained to do and that should be celebrated in non-scientists. Dr. Damalie Nalwanga, an ugandan pediatrician and fellow, talked about her work studying the neurocognitive function of children born with HIV treated with different antiretroviral therapies and how her research would help children born with HIV to thrive as productive adults. In each example, Woolley stressed that the goal of the fellows’ research was to improve health and quality of life for the public. “So when someone asks ‘what do you do?,’ say, ‘I work for you.’”