El'gin Avila is an environmental health Ph.D. student at the University of Minnesota studying Industrial Hygiene. He is originally from Detroit, Michigan and is continually motivated by the history of black and brown communities and tribes in the US and abroad. He has a wide range of interests and believes a well-rounded and holistic approach to population health is key to understanding what to research and who needs to be at the table. His ultimate goal is to conduct actionable research that impacts policy and eventually become a policymaker.
When and how did you become interested in science communication and advocacy?
I became interested in science communication and advocacy when I realized black and brown communities are rarely involved in the decision-making processes around the country. Growing up at the start of the millennium, things started to change rapidly in terms of access to technology, but the decision-makers stayed predominately white men. Many of these men did not care about our plight or make an effort to come talk to us about the science. I wanted to be a physician originally but saw I could make a bigger impact through policy and population health, so I tied my interests in science communication and advocacy to the field, and I’ve been invested since.
Can you tell us a bit about your research and why it’s important for non-scientists?
My research focuses on air pollution and, sometimes separately, precarious and gig-work, or unstable, unprotected and often low-wage work. I view these to be very important issues in our society as together they deal with sustainability from a climate and economic perspective for families. Low-income families are often disproportionately affected by climate change and my goal is to help eliminate this disparity in addition to protect the public’s health. Non-scientists could find this to be important as it ultimately impacts our economy and the working class. As our economy is continually being reshaped by innovation and automation, citizens will have to adapt and occasionally take on more precarious work. As a result, my goal is to make sure there are ethical practices and initiatives in place to protect workers.
How do you think scientists and technical experts can use their training and critical analysis skills to get involved with political advocacy?
This year we saw a significant increase in the number of doctorate-holders in politics. It is imperative that we as scientists get involved in the decision-making process on topics such as climate change adaptation and sustainability initiatives as we can make informed and evidence-based judgments. Because some of us have been trained in critical analysis and leadership trainings, we should welcome the opportunity to make our voices heard when others disregard scientific evidence and stick to short-term economic gains. We also need to engage with the community more, and through politics we should be able to get out of our Ivory towers and back to grassroots mobilization as well.
How can science be used for public good and collective action?
Science should be used for public good and collective action as it is often funded through our tax dollars. It should be readily available to communities and should be used as supplemental evidence to support advocacy programs and policies which improve communities throughout the country. Science interpretation can be difficult, so we as scientists should be able and willing to assist communities when needed, and we should take courses in creating legible findings from our studies as well. Science can be good for providing an foundation of evidence to support equitable decisions and initiatives in our society.