For the past three years, I’ve made it a point to go the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science Conference (SACNAS). SACNAS is an organization devoted to encouraging minority students to pursue graduate education and careers in science. Although I am likely well beyond the targeted age demographic, it’s a really great time to hang out and talk with younger kids embarking on careers in science; kids who are largely the first members of their family to graduate high school, let alone go to University. More or less, many of these hard working and excellent kids aren’t much different than me. I go to a few conferences every year, and find that most are filled with the typical one-upmanship and grandstanding that you would expect in the science world. SACNAS on the other hand, with its emphasis on younger scientists, is entirely laid back. It’s incredible to meet faculty and working scientists in an environment outside their element.
This time, I was able to present a poster of a project that I’ve been working on. While the poster was nothing to get excited about, one of my judges, a Chicano gentleman from New Mexico State, and I must have talked for more than a half an hour about the importance of science as a tool to make the world a better place. After more than a half an hour of explaining how my research could be used to influence health policy to more efficiently deliver health services to isolated and at risk populations, the gentleman teared up and gave me a huge bear hug. It was incredible and completely out of my academic experience at the U of M, where more often than not, it seems that making a name for yourself and keeping the economics of science moving is priority one.
To hell with that. Science is at its core subversive. It’s about shaking up preconceived notions of the world. All the way back to when Galileo disrupted the hegemony of the church by simply pointing out the world rotated around the sun. Now, with the world facing a litany of problems and challenges, the likes of which humanity has never seen, our voices are more important than ever.
Organizations like SACNAS encourage the perfect demographic to contribute to science. People who understand what the poor and marginalized experience. People who have just enough conscience to contribute to the betterment of the world and people who think in a unique enough fashion to avoid all the pitfalls of trendy scientific thinking and contribute exciting and original ideas.