STPP receives grant to study STEM-in-Society training

April 21, 2023

As science becomes more central to our daily lives—whether for predicting the impacts of climate change, transforming our physical and cognitive capabilities, or developing life-saving pharmaceuticals—socially responsible research and innovation are increasingly important. This is requiring universities and other educational institutions to think differently about how they train their students, because budding scientists and engineers need to understand not just the technical but the social, ethical, and equity dimensions of their work.

The Science, Technology, and Public Policy program (STPP) at the Ford School will explore the landscape of STEM-in-Society programs around the country, and identify opportunities for building a scalable approach expanding this kind of training, thanks to a grant from The Kavli Foundation. 

“Only a few programs currently provide in-depth training on ethics and equity in research and innovation, and very few scientists train at universities where this kind of material is available to them,” says STPP director Shobita Parthasarathy. “We have developed a successful training model with STPP’s graduate certificate program, but we want to help ensure that existing and new programs can build on best practices and thinking, ultimately leading to many more scientists and engineers who think critically about the social implications of their work, and who conduct better, more just and ethical research.”

The project will include a landscape assessment, which will identify the range of programs at institutions across the U.S. and some in Europe, training students from undergraduate to postdoc, based in science or engineering departments, policy schools, and those administered in university president or provost’s offices. Understanding the landscape is useful because it will enable the development of a typology of these programs, and inform the creation of scalable approaches. 

On the basis of the landscape assessment, the team will also do a case study analysis, comparing programs of different types to learn how each program works, who it attracts, how it has impacted participants in the short and long term, and what challenges the program has faced. “We are particularly interested in whether and how these programs prepare participants to maximize societal benefits of science and technology while minimizing risks, biases, inequities, and other limitations,” said Parthasarathy. 

Says Brooke Smith, Director of Science and Society at the Kavli Foundation: “As the pace of scientific discovery is accelerating, so is the need to consider ethical and social implications of research breakthroughs, advancements and application. This requires new approaches to scientific training grounded in an understanding of those approaches as well as the gaps. Bringing STPP’s leadership in this area coupled with their scholarly approaches to landscaping and comparative analysis will help build effective and scalable programs across scientific institutions.”

The Kavli Foundation was established by Fred Kavli in 2000 with a vision to advance science for the benefit of humanity. The foundation aspires to this vision through our mission to stimulate basic research in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience, neuroscience, and theoretical physics; strengthen the relationship between science and society; and honor scientific discoveries with The Kavli Prize.