Panel offers tips on translating research into action

Tamarra James-Todd, Mark and Catherine Winkler Assistant Professor of Environmental Reproductive and Perinatal Epidemiology, speaks about science communication/ Photo: Sarah Sholes

2 min read

How can scientists turn their research into action? Four faculty members from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health shared advice from their careers during a panel discussion on March 20, 2017. The event was organized by students Anna Young, S.M. ’18, Annelise Mesler, S.D. ’20, and Erika Eitland, S.D. ’20, and focused on the challenges researchers often face in translating scientific results for the general public.

Marc Weisskopf, associate professor of environmental and occupational epidemiology, said that before research can have an impact, people must understand the scientific process—and that begins with effective communication.

“Science isn’t about figuring out the absolute truth; we’re always evolving,” Weisskopf said, addressing the uncertainty that can often surround recommendations related to health. “We’re never going to be 100 percent [certain], but we need to make our best judgments based on the evidence we have.”

Joseph Allen, assistant professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, has seen the importance of communication firsthand. He recalled meeting with a CEO in the indoor air purification industry who was unaware of the negative effects of particulate air pollution—an area where there is large amount of evidence. In response, Allen and his team have created quick guides to air pollution that have been well-received by business leaders. “We’re not doing a good enough job of explaining what matters and why it matters,” Allen told the audience. He urged attendees to step outside of academia and speak directly to the people who work in areas they’re trying to influence.