Conversation with Dr. Anthony Fauci on Science Communication and Diversity in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math)
Image: Screenshot from the interview I had with Dr. Anthony Fauci for the Research America 2021 National Health Research Forum entitled "Researcher to Researcher: A Fireside Chat with Dr. Anthony Fauci".
The interview can be found here.
Interview transcript below.
Dr. Colón-Rodríguez: 00:07 Hello, my name is Dr. Alexandra Colón-Rodríguez, and to say I am thrilled to be sitting here with Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the NIH, is an understatement. Thank you so much Research America for this amazing opportunity and thank Dr. Fauci for joining us.
Dr. Fauci: 00:27 My pleasure, good to be with you.
Dr. Colón-Rodríguez: 00:31 Thank you! To me, Dr. Fauci you are the standard of a true science communicator, for this reason I would like to get your insight on this topic.
Dr. Colón-Rodríguez: 00:41 This pandemic has underscored the important role scientists must play in communicating science, especially to the public, and how hard it could be to do so efficiently. So, I wanted to know, since we usually don't have formal science communication training as scientists, what do you think, do you think communication training for scientists should be formalized?
Dr. Fauci: 01:10 Well I think there should be some training. I believe since we, as you're alluding to, we really need to get more scientists out there communicating for a number of reasons, one of the most important which is that there is a considerable amount of misinformation and disinformation out there particularly on social media and scientists really should feel comfortable in articulating the facts and the evidence that gets people to make the appropriate decisions when it comes to their health. So I’m not so sure it should be a long-drawn-out formal training but there should be some fundamental training. I mean some fundamental principles that I abide by I could teach in one class, you wouldn't have to go through the entire semester of learning, you could probably do it in one class. One of the most important things is that you don't, if you're a scientist and you're communicating, the objective of what you're trying to do is not to appear smart, it's to be understood. You know, sometimes scientists when they get up in front of people, they feel they want to be as detailed and as arcane as they possibly can, that is a big mistake, people need to understand what you're talking about, they don't need to be impressed by how smart you are, so there are a couple of things like that. Also say in a few words what some people might say in a lot of words, short is better always.
Dr. Colón-Rodríguez: 02:45 I completely agree, short and concise, and straight to the point, it’s one thing that most of us struggle with.
Dr. Colón-Rodríguez: 02:54 In addition I have to tell you that your ability to respond to questions in a calm and concise manner is incredible. So, how did you become such an effective science communicator? You already shared some advice but if you had one only one piece of advice for scientists to communicate better science what would that thing be?
Dr. Fauci: 03:16 Well there is an old saying I learned from my Jesuit training in high school, and it is precision of thought economy of expression. Know exactly what you're trying to say in a precise way and say it with as few words as possible, and that's what I mean by precision of thought and economy of expression. That's my one big piece of advice to scientists who are communicating.
Dr. Colón-Rodríguez: 03:45 Awesome and did you have any formal training or it's just like throughout the years you've become better by doing, by practicing?
Dr. Fauci: 3:55 No, I think what you're saying is true. I mean I taught myself. I would always try to critique myself if I would communicate I would go back over to what I said and how I said it to try and sharpen it for the next time, and then the next time I would do the same thing, listen and review what I said and how I said it and continue to try and make it better and better until you get into a groove where you really are on the top of your game and then it all comes naturally after that.
Dr. Colón-Rodríguez: 04:25 Totally yeah practice makes us better for sure, but you have been a role model for many of us communicators and it's been awesome for us to see how you do it, how you deal with all these questions.
Dr. Colón-Rodríguez: 04:39 So I want to talk a little bit about career paths, and I just want to know what motivated you to become a physician scientist, because this, the dual path, is not a common one that people, that the majority of people pursue.
Dr. Fauci: 04:54 Well I did not want to become a physician scientist from the very beginning, my main goal was to become a physician, so I was very attracted to the field of medicine. You know I was interestingly a classics major in college majoring in Greek Latin romance language and philosophy and took just enough science to get into medical school but I fell in love with medicine and wanted to become a physician it was only when I went down to the NIH for my fellowship in infectious diseases and immunology that I was introduced to the world of science and I realized that I actually liked it and I was pretty good at it and so I became a physician scientist but my original goal was to become a physician and wind up practicing medicine back in my hometown of New York City. I came down to the NIH in Bethesda Maryland for a fellowship, loved it, loved the science, love the interaction between clinical medicine and science, and that's what I’ve been doing ever since, so, I didn't plan it that way it just kind of happened with my fellowship.
Dr. Colón-Rodríguez: 06:10 It naturally happened. Yeah that's amazing. So, I want to switch gears here a little bit and talk to you about STEM training recruitment and careers, and so as a woman, as a Puerto Rican woman in STEM, I am a minority, and so it has been hard to have role models with similar backgrounds as me. So, I want to know if you think that it is possible to have a diverse equitable and inclusive STEM environment. Do you think that's an attainable goal? and how has the field change since you started?
Dr. Fauci: 06:45 Well, first of all, not only is it possible it's essential to have a diverse STEM profile. I mean you absolutely have to do that I think if you're not diverse you're not representing the needs of society and the different vantage points of society, so I’m a very strong believer and I think that we've done very well over the last several years. You know when I was in medical school, and in my training even in my fellowship, they were all white men and that was it, period. That is not the case right now. If you go on rounds with me at the NIH clinical center there are more women than men and there are more people of color than Caucasian, so I think we're there at least in the environment that I’m in.
Dr. Colón-Rodríguez: 07:45 I see, that's awesome, that's really great to know and I have seen change since I started in 2010 as a grad student, so I have hope for the future for sure.
Dr. Colón-Rodríguez: 07:56 I want to ask you about the importance of diversity and diverse collaborations, do you think that diverse collaborations are essential for the development and success of science?
Dr. Fauci: 08:05 Yeah, I really do because I feel strongly that you have to have a wide range of perspectives in everything that you do not only clinical medicine, but the kind of research you approach, the questions that you ask. I think that's the most important thing that if you come from a very unidimensional background you know, of all the traditional, you know, young white men period, as opposed to people of color, women, the whole spectrum of diversity, you get different perspectives about what is important, what are the important questions to ask, so it isn't as if because you get different ideas and different levels of talent but you also get a different perspective on what the important questions are. I find that to be the most, and one of the most important reasons why you want diversity.
Dr. Colón-Rodríguez: 09:00 I completely agree, yeah, we've seen this also as a great example in the development of the vaccine right, it's been great to see.
Dr. Colón-Rodríguez: 09:09 I want to go to a fun question, what would be one word that you would use to describe yourself and why?
Dr. Fauci: 09:17 I would say…
Dr. Colón-Rodríguez: 09:18 Is that a hard one?
Dr. Fauci: 09:20 I would say resilient.
Dr. Colón-Rodríguez: 09:26 I guess we don't need to know why, we all know why.
Dr. Fauci: 09:28 You know why, you know why.
Dr. Colón-Rodríguez: 09:31 Thank you so much. My last question for you would be what excites you most about the future of science and the STEM workforce?
Dr. Fauci: 09:39 I just think it's the talent and the energy and the passion of the young people I see around me. I have a great deal of faith in the future success of our enterprise by viewing how terrific and devoted and talented the young people are that I see around me in my environment so I’m very very optimistic about the future.
Dr. Colón-Rodríguez: 10:05 Awesome, thank you so much! That was my last question. I just want to
thank you again Dr. Fauci for your time. It's been a pleasure to be able to speak with you today and to hear your powerful message for all of us especially future researchers and scientists. Thank you, Research America, and now on to the flash talks competition.
Dr. Fauci: 10:31 Thank you, good to be with you.