We are thrilled to announce that the Genetics Society of America (GSA) is collaborating with the Personal Genetics Education & Dialogue (PGED)1 based in the Department of Genetics at Harvard Medical School, and the Reclaiming STEM Institute (RSI) on a Leading Culture Change Through Professional Societies of Biology (BIO-LEAPS) grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF). The two-year Design grant awarded to PGED’s home institution, Harvard Medical School, supports “Culture Change–Building a Relational and Inclusive Discipline through Genetics Engagement (CC-BRIDGE),” a capacity-building initiative that seeks to explore public engagement with science as a path for transformative culture change in the field of genetics. 

“As part of GSA’s mission to cultivate a community that creates and communicates the excitement and implications of discovery, CC-BRIDGE will help us better understand and develop ways to address issues our field faces surrounding public perception and a lack of trust in science and scientists. Through public engagement driven by this project, our members will be able to dialogue with each other and with the public more effectively, making our genetics community more inclusive, inviting, and better equipped to serve all,” says GSA President Mariana Federica Wolfner.   

Since 2020, GSA has collaborated with PGED to develop genetics-and-society programming through webinars, workshops, and other events. This grant will fund the development of a program that better equips scientists to effectively engage with their communities on topics of interest and relevance to genetics. Director of Programs at PGED Marnie Gelbart shares her enthusiasm, “PGED is thrilled to embark on this journey with GSA, RSI, and project advisors as we bring our collective expertise to explore the role of public engagement in cultivating a more inclusive and welcoming genetics culture.”  

Design Track projects funded by this grant support researchers in developing evidence-based approaches to culture change. Through webinars, workshops, and a symposium focused on historical and current social impacts of genetics research, CC-BRIDGE will pilot a reciprocal and inclusive public engagement program for scientists. Increasing evidence suggests that participation in science communication and outreach positively impacts the professional development and identity of scientists—which can in turn benefit scientific institutions and culture—while also building public understanding and positive perceptions of science. 

RSI Co-Executive Directors Evelyn Valdez-Ward and Robert Ulrich emphasize the importance of cultural transformation in genetics and its implications for those in STEM as well as broader societal impacts, saying, “Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are shaped by the values of the dominant U.S. cultural norms… [and] success in STEM fields privileges these [norms]. Public engagement is an undervalued way to change these conventions. CC-BRIDGE could be a critical first step in helping change the culture of genetics as a whole.” 

This pilot program will draw on input from a multidisciplinary advisory group comprising experts in genetics and the broader life sciences with vast knowledge in inclusive public engagement, science communication, pedagogy, and professional development. The group represents various career stages, sectors, identities, and lived experiences, and includes representatives from other organizations like AAAG, AABA, ASTC, Alliance for Genomic Justice, Black In Genetics, CienciaPR, Gallaudet University, and SACNAS.2 PGED Public Engagement Associate Rob O’Malley shares, “I’m particularly excited to co-develop new programming with GSA to support members in how they approach conversations on emerging issues in genetics with the public and with each other, and to highlight a wide range of voices and perspectives from beyond the discipline.”

We are excited to collaborate with our partners in these endeavors and we extend our gratitude to NSF for their generous support. GSA Executive Director Tracey DePellegrin underscores the importance of scientific societies like ours taking a leadership role in creating culture change in the sciences, “Given our broad impact and reach, it is incumbent upon GSA to provide a platform for members to share their lived experiences. Because these experiences actively shape how scientists conduct research and engage with others, by fostering an environment that amplifies their unique perspectives, we fuel progress both within and outside of our field.”

NSF awarded this grant under the BIO-LEAPS program, which leverages the reach of professional societies like GSA to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in the biological sciences. CC-BRIDGE program activities started in April 2024.

  1.  Formerly Personal Genetics Education Project ↩︎
  2.  AAAG: American Association of Anthropological Genetics; AABA: American Association of Biological Anthropologists; ASTC: Association of Science and Technology Centers; CienciaPR: Ciencia Puerto Rico; SACNAS: Society for the Advancement Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science. ↩︎