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AAAS Abelson Award

“Making Room for Public Service”

Remarks by
Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D.
President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Vancouver Convention Centre, Vancouver, BC

Friday, February 17, 2012


Thank you. I am honored to be associated with Dr. Abelson and the esteemed past recipients of this award. I have been fortunate to work with many outstanding colleagues in the pursuit of discovery and understanding, and I thank them as well.

I have never lost my passion for science. Its theories, experiments, and analytical rigor provide a deeper understanding and appreciation of nature, but also of the challenges our world faces—they are myriad.

I have had the opportunity and privilege to work as a physicist, the President of a technological research university, the Chairman of a science- and engineering-rooted Federal regulatory agency, and as an advocate and policy-maker on behalf of science. Our future depends on science that is adequately supported by the public, and respected by decision makers.

Therefore, we, who are scientists, have a special obligation to bring our knowledge into the public and to public policy. The only way that informed decisions can be made is if those of us who have the knowledge, the analytical skills, perspectives, and relevant facts participate at every level.

I have been privileged to work at multiple levels in different arenas. These opportunities have always strengthened my resolve to make a difference in the world through “the application of science to the common purposes of life” (Rensselaer’s founding mission).

As we make room for public service, developing skills in working across disciplines, empathy - understanding the needs of others, and effective communications will be essential. I would ask you to help your colleagues to find opportunities to prepare themselves to make great discoveries and articulate them, to apply science to the world’s great challenges, and to engage ever more effectively with the public and make a contribution to public policy.

I have been fortunate to have a wonderful family, great and sustaining colleagues, lifelong friends, and supportive mentors along the way. I thank them all.

I am grateful for the generosity of the AAAS, and for the honor you have bestowed upon me this evening. I wish all of you great success.

Thank you.


Source citations are available from the division of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Statistical data contained herein were factually accurate at the time it was delivered. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute assumes no duty to change it to reflect new developments.

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