How to write an op-ed

By Adriana Bankston

On September 8, 2018 at UC Irvine, I organized a breakout session as part of the first ever Reclaiming STEM workshop. This post is a summary of that session. The slides for the talk can be found here.

ADVOCACY

Within the scientific enterprise, it is critical to amplify hidden voices and promote a diverse workforce. Some examples of these different populations on Twitter to consider are: #MarginSci #LatinxinSTEM #WomxninSTEM #BlackinSTEM #lgbtSTEM #WOC #POCinSTEM We need to advocate for these populations while keeping in mind that they may face additional barriers.

Science advocacy requires more skills than being an outstanding scientist. There are opportunities to learn how to be an engaging communicator from workshops such as ComSciCon, as well as learning advocacy skills through conferences. However, there are also limitations to advocacy for particular populations, including government scientists and international scientists, who might face more severe consequences to stating their advocacy opinions in public. Another limitation is when signing an op-ed, for example some government scientists may not be comfortable with sharing their associations (such as university, organization, etc), and instead could sign with a more generic terms such as “(insert field) researcher.”

INTRODUCTION TO OP-EDs

What are op-eds?
Op-eds are short for ‘opposite the editorial’ page, and they are typically found in the newspaper or magazine that is reserved for opinions from people other than editors.

Who are op-eds for?
Op-eds can be used as powerful advocacy tools for an issue of interest, which can also establish you as an expert on this issue. They further allow engagement of influential decision-makers and other audiences who may not typically read about these topics.

What do op-eds represent?
Op-eds represent your point of view – and they needn’t advocate for a specific policy outcome but should have compelling evidence to back it up. Evidence used in an op-ed needn’t be only in the form of data, however, but can also be a quote or other forms. The most important thing is to figure out is what your argument is.

What do op-eds allow you to do?
Op-eds are a powerful way to speak out and use your voice on an issue of interest. They allow you to engage with policy makers, support local communities, stand up for science-based coverage in the media, and show your support for government scientists.

What are examples of topics within advocating for science?
Some op-ed topics for around science advocacy are policies with local impacts, the state of the research enterprise and empowering early career scientists, among others. One example of such an effort is the 500 Women Scientist/Science Rising op-ed project to get op-eds placed in campus newspapers about the importance of voting.

What are considerations for writing an op-ed?
When writing an op-ed, you should ask yourself these questions:

  1. What is the goal of your piece?
  2. What is the major point you are making with your piece?
  3. Who needs to hear this argument?
  4. Can you make this into a story?

What are tips for writing an op-ed?
Some useful tips for writing an op-ed include:

  1. You should always do your research
  2. Have a catchy title and timely references
  3. Have one “ask” and make it strong and clear
  4. Post your op-ed on social media after it’s printed out to spur dialogue

What is the structure of an op-ed?
The workshop used resources from the Union of Concerned Scientists and 500 Women Scientists to inform the discussion of structuring an op-ed. Some members of the audience constructed their own op-ed and received feedback during the session.

What is one example of an op-ed?
The op-ed, “Why Women Drop out of Science Careers,” by Alicia Pérez-Porro is an excellent example of the tips and structure mentioned above.

  1. The introduction grabs you right away and lays out the problem, has metaphors, and is a personal story while also being a story that everyone can relate to
  2. The body explains the current situation and what the problem is
  3. The body also has a call to action to solve the problem
  4. The conclusion brings it back to a personal story and ends with a positive message

CONCLUSIONS

The mission of Future of Research is to champion, engage and empower early career scientists with evidence-based resources to improve the scientific research endeavor. We make our collective voice heard through policy research studies (e.g. research on postdoctoral salaries) and local meetings organized by early career scientists (such as around creating meaningful leadership positions for this population).

Our broader goal is to advocate for an improved scientific enterprise, where we enable early career scientists to: 1) speak up for changes enterprise; 2) use their passion for science to benefit society; and 3) make informed choices about their career paths. A really important aspect of all these facets is that of empowering them to speak up and effect change.

RESOURCES FOR ADVOCACY AND WRITING
Scientific societies

AAAS Force for Science

ASBMB science advocacy network

ASCB Capitol Hill Day 

Advocacy/policy groups:

Scientists speaking up

The Science for Public Good Fund

Science Rising

Writing op-eds:

Writing an op-ed (AAAS)

Op-ed advice (500 women scientists)

Op-Ed Writing: It’s OK To Argue For Something (COMPASS)

Writing op-eds (Union of concerned scientists)

Articles:

What early-career researchers can do to advocate for science

How international scientists can advocate, and how U.S. scientists can support them

Advocating for science: a summary of key skills learned through a series of workshops

Future of Research: Advocating for Science 2016

Adriana Bankston is the Associate Director of Fundraising and Strategic Initiatives at Future of Research, a nonprofit organization with a mission to champion, engage and empower early career scientists with evidence-based resources to improve the scientific research endeavor. She received her bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences from Clemson University and her PhD in Biochemistry, Cell and Developmental Biology from Emory University. Through her experiences at Future of Research, she has gained a comprehensive view of the issues faced by early career scientists in the current scientific enterprise, and continues to be an advocate on their behalf. She would like to acknowledge Melissa Varga (Union of Concerned Scientists) for help editing the workshop content prior to the presentation, and thank the organizers for having Future of Research be part of Reclaiming STEM workshop.