Human augmentation. Sounds like the theme of a highly-rated, futuristic SciFi movie, right? In the realm of chemistry, however, the idea of enhancing human capability often guides some of the most impactful research. For example, research in the Wuest lab is focused on the development of new antibiotics inspired by nature. From identifying and synthesizing to characterizing and optimizing, researchers in the Wuest lab hope to improve upon natural products with the ultimate goal of commercialization. Because of their ability to alter the human microbiome, the therapeutic use of these antibiotics lends itself to improving the human function.
These research efforts recently earned Dr. Wuest the distinction of being named a Leshner Leadership Institute Public Engagement Fellow. The Leshner Fellow program was developed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to train scientists to be more active in public engagement and government policy discussions. Each year, the program selects a theme that they deem to be of importance in the realm of public engagement. The theme of the year was Human Augmentation, which followed such past themes as Infectious Diseases, Food and Water Security, and Climate Change.
As a Leshner Fellow, Dr. Wuest was given the opportunity to participate in a week-long orientation designed to facilitate issue-specific scientific communication and to encourage attendees to serve as leaders in public engagement. Instructional modules covered topics from video production and graphics to social media. “We met with a panel of journalists to learn how to engage with them about research stories we are working on,” says Dr. Wuest. “We received training in how to engage policy makers on Capitol Hill and create one page ‘drop sheets’. We also were instructed on how to give televised interviews and participated in one recording for the Leshner video.” In addition, the meeting provided a stage for attendees to initiate collaborations with other leaders in the field.
“The highlight of the week was our visit to Capitol Hill,” says Dr. Wuest. He met with staff members of the Senate Commerce Committee, The House Committee on Science and Technology, and with the office of Representative Bill Foster (D-IL), with whom he was able to communicate his passion for graduate student training and the need for diversity and inclusion in the sciences (the current focus of two bills in Congress). “I focused my pitch on the specific training of graduate students through an increase in federal funding to fellowships and training grants as opposed to directly to the PI, which is the primary mode of funding graduate students currently,” he explains. This concept is also the topic of an op-ed that he is co-writing with 4 other fellows.
At the end of the orientation week, Dr. Wuest walked away with answers to such questions as “How do you engage writers and editors?”, “What is the best approach to impacting policy?”, and “What is the best way to make institutional change within your organization?”. Moreover, each fellow was guided towards developing and implementing two engagement plans for the upcoming year. For Dr. Wuest, the first plan is centered around educating the public on the issues of antimicrobial resistance and the development of new antibiotics. “My plan involves writing a number of op-eds to educate the public as well as organizing public forums around the topic,” he says. For his second plan, Dr. Wuest is focusing on the further development of a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship at Emory University. This aim, he says, is derived from his relationship with the Georgia Research Alliance. In collaboration with Emory, this organization awarded him a Distinguished Investigator endowed chair when he moved here in 2017.
“The experience has made a significant impact on how I think about communicating my science and the reach I would like my findings to have,” says Dr. Wuest. He is already capitalizing on some of the training he received during orientation, having recently engaged with a number of journalists to help share his message. He had an interview with NPR regarding a recent publication that is set to air sometime this month, and he contacted Senator Isakson (R-GA) who currently has proposed a bipartisan bill, the DISARM Bill, which seeks to address the issue of antibiotic development in the private sector.
Beyond just sharing his interest in antibiotics and research, Dr. Wuest also hopes to inspire others to take a similar approach to communicating their own science. “I would encourage not only faculty but students as well to think more broadly about public engagement in all areas, whether it be social media, SciComm, writing op-eds, emailing local representatives, etc.,” he says. “Without public support, a lot of the science we do will not be possible.”
If you are a student interested in similar programs to the one described here, check out the AAAS Fellowships website!
To read more about the research in the Wuest lab, check out this article in Emory News.
All photo credit to Mary Catherine Longshore, AAAS