Social Impact/Activism

Social activists have confidence to fight for their position in front of powerful people, and the passion and perseverance to see a project through in the face of opposition. Superior communication skills allow them to articulate the benefits of their position to fellow scientists, policy makers, and community members.

Typical Job Functions

Careers in activism bring like-minded people together to build a movement that creates change. The purpose is to use “people power” to affect:

  • Government legislation
  • Business policies
  • Actions of individuals and groups

Social activists look at the root causes of unmet needs in society and try to find ways to address them. Activists in the realm of science might focus on environmental issues, public health and wellness, or chemical warfare.

Typical job functions for a scientific activist include:

  • Communicate with decision-makers and influencers through publications, speeches, public events, or media
  • Issues research, including monitoring news feeds and social media, interviewing community members, and conducting focus groups
  • Organize responses to disasters and destruction of the environment
  • Formulate position statements, goals, and priorities for campaigns
  • Develop messages and talking points for movement spokespeople
  • Participate in international delegations to monitor treaty compliance and build cooperation
  • Track environmental changes, chemical weapons, disease epidemics, and pollutant spread on local and global scales

Some scientific activists may work to improve standards of living in developing nations by opening channels for financial resources, education, and technology from developed nations. This work is often done without strong official diplomatic ties. In these cases, scientists act as unofficial envoys to communicate their message to governments and citizens.

Career Paths

Social activism can be pursued on any level, and career paths and income can vary widely. Full-time careers include project management work at foundations and nonprofit organizations, which may lead to leadership positions in these organizations. Job titles include:

  • Community organizer
  • Community outreach specialist
  • Foundation director/executive
  • Lobbyist
  • Non-profit founder
  • Public relations specialist
  • Program director

The following may be required to work up to a higher-level position as a social activist:

  • Specialized knowledge (e.g., medicine, public health, environmental science, etc.)
  • Experience managing projects and people, fundraising, budgeting, public relations, and marketing
  • Experience working with government agencies, legislative bodies, academic institutions, religious institutions, and/or grantmaking foundations.

Getting Started

Many activists start as volunteers for nonprofit groups, professional societies, academic organizations, political campaigns, or neighborhood organizations. Scientists can use their expertise to help craft talking points, write op-ed pieces, or serve as subject matter experts at town hall meetings and hearings.

Those wishing to become more involved may apply for fellowships or grants that allow them to spend a year or two working full-time on specific issues at think tanks, government agencies, universities, or nonprofit organizations.

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