Brett Hooton is the Director Communications and Operations Research and Innovation (R+I) at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, and Falling Walls Engage Hub Canada Manager. Founded in 1821, McGill is one of Canada’s best-known institutions of higher learning and one of the leading universities in the world. With students from over 150 countries, it is the most internationally diverse of any research-intensive university in the country. He talks with us about the field of Science Engagement, his understanding of it and the importance of an International Year of Science Engagement.
What is Science Engagement to you and why is it important?
Like curiosity-driven research, Science Engagement doesn’t necessarily have a pre-set outcome. Engaging in science presents opportunities to discover the creativity that drives work in the STEM fields. Being in a communications role at one of the world’s best research-intensive universities, I have the great privilege of helping to tell the stories of the individuals and teams who make an impact on society through science. I believe that by accessing science through storytelling, it becomes a powerful tool in making the case for science-based policies that will help governments meet global challenges, such as climate change, economic inequity, and pandemic response.
Regardless of background, geography, or circumstances, science impacts every person. What’s more, I believe, everyone possesses an innate understanding of the importance of science to our world. Indigenous people, for example, have demonstrated this deep understanding in centuries-long efforts to protect biodiversity, long before universities or research institutions existed. Today, we don’t have to look far to find examples of scientists who are pushing the envelop in research while valuing the unique perspectives they and others bring to the work. The most successful Science Engagement efforts—and what we should strive for in all public discourse—is to value all voices equally. In this model, the scientist is not elevated above the audience. Falling Walls’ global platform for Science Engagement is a great example of greater inclusivity in science.