PSPDG Advances Chapter Programming in Science Policy, Advocacy, Diplomacy, and Communication

Jan 20, 2021

Pennsylvania Science Policy and Diplomacy Group (PSPDG) is expanding their programming through numerous offerings in Science Policy, Diplomacy, and Science Communication. NSPN caught up with PSPDG President and Racial Justice Deputy, Erin Reagan, about some of their recent projects and training opportunities. 


Like many science policy chapters within NSPN, PSPDG’s mission is to increase the training available to student scientists in communication, effectively advocating for the role of science in policy making, and how science contributes to global diplomacy. To address this gap, PSPDG creates opportunities for students and early-career scientists at the University of Pennsylvania to get hands-on training and experiences in the fields of science communication, policy, and diplomacy. 


Can you share a bit about some of the programs that PSPDG is currently working on in each of these three areas? Do you have a favorite? 

Well that’s a tough call for me! We have a ton of really exciting programming and initiatives that we’re working on. 

Within Science Policy, we have 1) a SciPol 101 event we designed and put on virtually, 2) a comprehensive panel on different SciPol fellowships available to grad students and undergrads, 3) a very successful program of legislative meeting days where we brought 24 early career researchers to have around 30 meetings with DC and Harrisburg (state capitol) legislative offices. The latter followed a very effective SciPol educational series in early 2020 in which we trained our members in memo writing and policy strategizing, which we plan to repeat and revamp for 2021. 4) We also have a working group to establish a state-level SciPol fellowship in Pennsylvania and 5) a working group to evaluate and suggest improvements in policies at the University of Pennsylvania that impact racial justice in STEM. 

Within Science Diplomacy, we have 1) a working group collaborating with the Phillipine Embassy on agriculture and environmental Policy, 2) a seminar series exploring science diplomacy topics, 3) a years-long collaboration with the UN, 4) a SciDip educational curriculum-building group, and 5) a history of successful collaborations with foreing governments including Costa Rica, Lituania, and Sweden!

Within Science Communication we have 1) a highly successful, recurring yearly 9-part workshop series educating attendees in the many different aspects of science communication, 2) a podcast which we’ve been producing for many years  now and which is currently undergoing a rebranding and revitalization process, 3) a blog, which is just now starting a new series covering important topics in science like confirmation bias, 4) a YouTube Channel, documenting some of our events as well as interviews with scipol professionals and research-in-progress talks from Penn students. 



Wow, this really is an incredible amount of work and reach that you are able to have as an organization! Can you speak a little bit to how, as an older chapter (established in 2013) you have been able to manage all these moving parts and maintain the momentum and engagement of your members? What advice would you share for growing chapters?

I think it has less to do with when we were founded and more to do with the systemic changes we have enacted over the past few years. Some of the major decisions we made were to be extremely mission-oriented, to strategically develop leaders for the group, to form a tight-knit social support network within the group, and to distribute responsibility across many different nodes.

First, we began prioritizing mission-driven programming. Every event idea, new initiative, or email sent was rigorously held to this standard. If it wasn’t directly serving our mission of creating opportunities for hands-on experience in SciPol, SciDip, or SciComm, we didn’t do it. Throughout the planning stages of each event and program, we were constantly asking ourselves “How can we make this workshop more useful?” and “What do we want the participants to come away with?”. This led us to create programming not just for PhD students about to graduate and looking for careers outside of academia, but also for 1st and 2nd year students. Importantly, we added two major components to our existing programming. Previously, we focused on events that provided one-way, less-participatory information such as info sessions, panels, and career talks. In 2019, we began also offering skills-based training and opportunities to apply those skills for a real world impact. For example, we offer workshops in memo-writing, legislative meetings, power-mapping, and more. We also assemble and guide teams as they write memos to submit to the NSPN-JSPG Memo-Writing Competition and other publications, and as they bring their findings to legislatures at the Federal and State level.  By focusing on bringing our members programming which was most valuable to them, we began attracting committed and motivated ECRs to attend events and get more involved in the group.

Second, we began strategically developing leaders. This initiative came from consultations with partner organizations, such as the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Local Leaders Team, which provides workshops, webinars, and one-on-one coaching for leaders of groups like PSPDG. We started tapping motivated and reliable members for opportunities to take on more leadership in the organization. Sometimes this looked like asking someone to help design the content for a workshop on a topic neither of us knew much about; sometimes it looked like asking someone to handle email correspondence and maintain a relationship with an important partner organization. Ultimately this led to the creation of multiple Chair and Deputy positions. Together with supporting time for socializing at leadership and general meetings, team building social activities, team-based working groups, and check-ins behind the scenes, we have been able to expand our capacity and our ability to recruit and connect with future leaders around our mission. 

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To learn more about PSPDG's Projects and visit their website and YouTube channel.

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