SFU researchers are Stanford-bound

Isabelle Côté - SFU News
Isabelle Côté - SFU News
Isabelle Côté – SFU News
Wendy Palen
Wendy Palen – SFU News

Two SFU biology professors have been chosen for the prestigious Leopold Leadership Program (LLP) at Stanford University.

Twenty applicants were selected from across North America, in fields ranging from ecology to economics, to take part in a rigorous training and networking program. This year’s fellows include SFU’s own Isabelle Côté and Wendy Palen.

The LLP’s mission is to change the way people think about and use science in key decision making. This means translating researchers’ knowledge into policy and business action.

Côté, who specializes in invasive species and marine conservation, said she feels she was selected in recognition of her efforts to make science more accessible. Since her last sabbatical, Côté said, “I’ve been experimenting more and more with various forms of science communication.” These include Twitter, podcasts, and short videos summarizing her work.

Associate professor of biology, Wendy Palen, was also selected as a 2015 Fellow. Palen specializes in the ecology of aquatic communities. She is currently on sabbatical and did not reply to The Peak before press time.

“Scientists are notoriously bad at explaining what they do, what they’ve discovered, and why it’s important,” said Côté. “On the other hand, government is making [it] very difficult for scientists to contribute and seems hell-bent on making decisions that fly in the face of evidence.”

She hopes that the LLP will allow her to more strategically communicate and promote her discoveries. The program also provides an opportunity to network with past and present fellows and strike up collaborations.

Côté admitted she and Palen have never worked together before, but said, “You’d be surprised how many science collaborations start from social interactions!”

The LLP includes two intensive training sessions, offered one year apart, on environmental problem solving and leadership. Between sessions, fellows receive ongoing webinars and peer and mentor support while they put what they have learned into practice at their home institutions.

Accessibility and action are the major goals of the LLP, according to its website. The program aims to help researchers engage with policy makers and business people who make decisions affecting the environment. At the moment, Côté said, this dialogue is very limited — a problem that both sides must work to fix.

Côté noted the promise of the LLP’s vision of increased collaboration between scientists and government. She said, “I think that both sides need to learn and change for society to benefit more from science.”

Overall, Côté is excited to become involved with this international program. “It’s a great honour and a great opportunity,” she concluded.