One of the most exciting programs offered by MIT is the Undergraduate Association (UA) student faculty dinner program. Taking a professor out to eat, on MIT’s dime, is not only a great way to get to get to know your professors, but it also shows students that our professors are, in fact, real people. Getting to interact in a casual setting helps break the stereotype that our professors’ lives completely revolve around their work.
Scientists around the world face a similar problem. The general public perceives scientists as emotionless creatures whose only goal is to discover something important in some esoteric field that has no effect on anyone’s life. Given that our future prosperity is more dependent on scientific innovation than ever before, it is essential that scientists work to change their image and rally the general public to support basic and applied research. The first step is to show the general public that scientists are not just obsessed with their work. Like us, they have ambitions, goals, relationships, interests, and desires that relate to other parts of their lives.
Having scientists share a meal with the general public is one way to break the stereotype. During the meal, guests would be able to see the humanity behind the researcher. Bringing people together to share food and drink is a wonderful way to start a conversation and discover commonalities. If a meal can lend someone a more complete understanding of the lives and goals of scientists, then we will have made huge progress. Imagine if this happened on a national or even international scale. It could be the start of a scientific public relations campaign, one that could foster a more productive relationship between science and society.
MIT represents the face of science in America. We have a responsibility to lead the PR campaign. MIT has already shown its commitment to outreach through programs like Under the Dome, Splash, and other events designed to showcase science for the general public. However, almost all of these programs are aimed towards kids. MIT should also focus on outreach directed towards adults. Through a program similar to the UA dinners, MIT could connect faculty members with adults throughout the community who are curious about the wonders of scientific discovery — a task that goes hand in hand with the mission of the Institute.