What does the average person think about science? Is the overall perception positive, negative, or neutral? 3M surveyed 14,000 people across the globe for their State of Science Index report. In this episode, Jayshree Seth, 3M Chief Science Advocate, takes a look at some of the most intriguing results.
Jayshree Seth has a PhD in Chemical Engineering and holds 60 patents. She is a Corporate Scientist at 3M - the highest-ranking scientist job title in the company. Jayshree is also 3M’s first ever Chief Science Advocate, responsible for promoting science, influencing popular perception of science, and helping inspire the next generation of scientists.
Robert Brittain: Would your daily life be different without science? Nearly half the people we surveyed didn't think so. Clearly science needs champions. On this podcast, we'll get to know the scientists and educators who are working to change the public perception of science. Welcome to Science Champions.
Robert Brittain: Hello, and thanks for listening to the 1st episode of Science Champions. I'm your host for this special episode, Robert Brittain, from 3M. 3M has just published its State of Science Index, results from a survey of more than 14,000 people worldwide. We wanted to know what people think about science: Is the prevailing perception positive negative or neutral?
Do people see the difference that science makes in their daily lives? Are we inspiring the next generation to pursue a career in science? To discuss the survey and how it informs the podcast I'd like to introduce Jayshree Seth. Jayshree is 3M's first ever chief science advocate. She's also a brilliant scientist with a PhD in chemical engineering and holds 60 Patents.
Robert Brittain: Jayshree, welcome.
Jayshree Seth: Thanks for having me.
Robert Brittain: Let's start with you: how did you start working with 3M?
Jayshree Seth: I actually started at 3M as a summer intern in the corporate labs and by the end of my internship I was offered a position at one of the divisions at 3M. I of course accepted, because I had such a great experience as an intern. So I finished my thesis, came back the following summer and started in the personal care business working on “developing technology and products for the components of disposable soft goods.” Which is just a fancy way of saying diapers. I had never seen a diaper before, so that was an interesting journey.
Robert Brittain: How did your role evolve?
Jayshree Seth: In 2006 I moved to 3M's largest division: The Industrial and Adhesive and Tapes Division, and have been working on identifying new growth opportunities and developing sustainable industrial adhesive products. Now, in my role as a corporate scientist, in addition to working on my divisions projects I also get to work on corporate initiatives.
Robert Brittain: And what does the Chief Science Advocate role mean to you?
Jayshree Seth: I'm truly honored and excited to be 3M 1st Chief Science Advocate. In this role I'm looking forward to fostering a global conversation around science and really how to bring science more into the limelight, if you will, get more people aware and excited about the science in our daily lives. I also hope to inspire students around the world, including my daughter, to have a deeper interest and appreciation for science and even pursue science-based careers.
Robert Brittain: Thinking about the State of Science Index, what was the guiding force behind conducting this research? What did 3M hope to find out?
Jayshree Seth: Science is core to 3M's vision and why we exist. We believe that science matters and specifically that science can improve lives everywhere. And we assume science matters to society at large, but does it? So our hope was to find out the pulse of science; we found that there was a lack of actual scientific research about attitudes regarding science. So we wanted to see how people perceive science in their everyday lives. We hope that this research will spark a conversation about science and help people see the importance of science, not just for those big societal problems, but the role science plays in our everyday lives.
Robert Brittain: What was one finding from the survey that you found encouraging, as a scientist and educator?
Jayshree Seth: I think the thing that I found most encouraging was that 92% of the people wanted to make sure their kids knew more about science, and 82% said that they might encourage their kids to pursue a career in science, that's very encouraging.
Robert Brittain: What did you find most concerning?
Jayshree Seth: The most concerning was that 38%, almost 2 out of 5, said that if science didn't exist their everyday lives wouldn't be that different. So, science is powerful but we’re actually invisible to them.
Robert Brittain: One thing I found interesting was how many people would rather have dinner with a scientist than with a celebrity?
Jayshree Seth: Well, I'm surprised in some ways. Who knew that scientists would be so popular, right up there with sports and entertainment celebrities?
Robert Brittain: Do you see any interesting variations in responses in different parts of the world?
Jayshree Seth: In terms of trust or skepticism, the US was close to the middle, I think. Five countries had more trust, eight had less. India had a great deal of respect and trust for science, which is why they were at the top. I grew up in that culture and I know that there is a lot of deference for knowledge and learning and a lot of respect for science-based careers.
Japan and Singapore had the lowest amount of trust and the highest degree of skepticism. I think a healthy level of skepticism is a good thing, because it keeps you questioning about the foundation of things and asking constantly why instead of just accepting them at face value.
Robert Brittain: How can organizations like 3M help to influence people's perceptions of science in their everyday lives?
Jayshree Seth: Results show that those who know a lot about science are more likely to think that science has a positive impact on everyday life, that science makes the world a better place, that science will have a positive impact in the future.
So, I think part of addressing the perception gap is educating people about science and showing students in particular all the many ways that science not only impacts our lives but also the opportunities it can open up in terms of careers. People are enamored by technology but that's fueled by science. So, part of my new role is to help start some of these conversations.
Robert Brittain: Thanks for joining us, Jayshree. Modern connected digital lives are made possible by science, that much is clear; the benefits are universal, but they can easily be taken for granted. We need Science Champions to help raise public awareness and inspire the next generation.
Thank you for listening to this inaugural episode of Science Champions. In the next episode, Jayshree will focus on how we can mentor and nurture the next generation of scientists. Join her and her guests BrainCraft host and producer Vanessa Hill, and Joanne Manaster, faculty lecturer at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
Dive into the data from the State of Science survey with our interactive State of Science Index homepage.
Visit the Science Champions podcast page.