Meghan Duffy sampling pond water in Congaree National Park, South Carolina. Image credit: Rachel Penczykowski.

University of Michigan ecologist Meghan Duffy is one of 15 infectious disease researchers named as 2017-2018 Public Engagement Fellows today by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

All 15 of the fellows have demonstrated leadership and excellence in their research careers, as well as an interest in promoting meaningful dialogue between science and society, according to AAAS, the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the journal Science. A reception for the new fellows was scheduled for today at the AAAS annual meeting, in Boston.

The new fellows will convene in June at AAAS headquarters in Washington, D.C., for a week of intensive public engagement and science communication training, networking, and public engagement plan development.

After the training, they will return to their institutions with resources and connections to develop and implement public engagement activities, opportunities for training other scientists in their communities, and increased capacity for public engagement leadership. AAAS staff will provide ongoing support and continuing professional development throughout their fellowship year.

“It’s an honor to be selected as a AAAS Public Engagement Fellow,” said Duffy, a disease ecologist and an associate professor in the U-M Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. “I’ve always thought that public engagement was important, but the current climate makes this work feel absolutely critical.”

Meg Duffy with her son at Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore.

Duffy’s research focuses on the ecology and evolution of infectious diseases, especially in aquatic ecosystems. She tries to understand how disease outbreaks start, why they end, and the factors that determine their severity.

“I’ve been wanting to do more science communication and public engagement work, but it’s been challenging to figure out how to do so effectively,” she said. “How does one write an engaging opinion piece? How does one go about getting it published? What are other ways to engage broad audiences? These are not topics that scientists typically receive training in, but it’s clear that we urgently need more scientists doing this sort of science communication.”

In her first faculty position, at Georgia Tech, Duffy received a faculty award for academic outreach, based in part on her work at Piedmont Park in Atlanta, where she gave presentations and led hands-on activities for elementary and middle school students.

At the University of Michigan, she is involved in various diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and is developing a unit in the Wolverine Pathways program for high school students from Detroit, Southfield and Ypsilanti. Duffy is active on various social media platforms and has written for the Dynamic Ecology blog since 2012.

“One of my goals as a public engagement fellow is to use the training I receive to develop a program here at the University of Michigan that trains academics in how to engage effectively with high school and college students from diverse backgrounds,” she said.

Duffy’s work has been recognized by a National Science Foundation CAREER award, a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the Mercer Award from the Ecological Society of America, and by the Yentsch-Schindler Early Career Award from the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography.

The 15 new fellows are the second cohort of the AAAS Alan I. Leshner Leadership Institute for Public Engagement with Science, which is managed by the AAAS Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology. The center was established in 2004 by Alan I. Leshner, who is now the chief executive officer emeritus of AAAS.

Read full Michigan News press release and watch a short video of Duffy