If science is going to fully serve its societal mission in the future, we need to both encourage and equip the next generation of scientists to effectively engage with the broader society in which we work and live. – Alan Leshner.
As the United States continues to fall behind other countries in math and science performance 
, Alan Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, expresses a sense of urgency about translating science to the broader public. Further, the mid-1990s implementation of a National Science Foundation grant application Broader Impacts Criterion mandates outreach as part of the granting process for the nation’s researchers 
, stating that those seeking funding must provide a description of how a proposed research project will affect the broader society via teaching, inclusion of underrepresented groups, the creation of outreach relationships, public discussion of research findings, and general social benefits of the project (See http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/gpg/broaderimpacts.pdf
Accessed 4/1112). By attaching such a directive to research funding, the NSF compels scientists to engage in such outreach, underscoring its importance to major science funding bodies.
These are signs that scientists have renewed their interest in outreach efforts, which Burns, O’Connor, and Stocklmayer (2003) define as any activity in which scientists translate their research or broader scientific concepts to those outside of the academy. Here we are most interested in the outreach that academic scientists say they undertake rather than examining the impact of scientists’ efforts to transmit scientific knowledge to the public. Previous research shows that half of academic scientists are engaged in some type of outreach 
, though 5 percent of the most active public scientists do half of all outreach 
However, existing research on this important topic is limited. The small body of existing scholarship on science outreach reveals that stage of career is a salient factor in outreach participation, with senior scientists more likely to take part in one-time-only opportunities, like being a guest on a TV or radio program and junior scholars more likely to engage in primary and secondary education outreach 
. The broadest body of literature deals with the factors that prevent scientists from more extensive engagement in outreach activities, with the most commonly cited barriers as time, funding, knowledge, training, and institutional disincentive. There is also a widely perceived “Sagan Effect” or a professional stigma attached to spending too much time translating one’s research to the broader public 
. Scientists who think their colleagues do little are less likely to display an interest in outreach work themselves 
, even though researchers find that in terms of tenure and promotion 
outreach activity has a small, positive effect on the science career.
Myriad factors play a role in scientists’ perceived ability to engage in outreach. For more than half of all scientists, a lack of time is the most insurmountable barrier to doing more outreach 
, and perceived time constraints are associated with a more negative impression of doing outreach activities 
. This time pressure may be compounded by inadequate distribution of knowledge about available outreach opportunities, forcing scientists to expend considerable effort to create or locate existing outreach options 
. Some researchers argue that scientists feel they do not have the necessary skills to share their research 
. Scientists often perceive themselves as having poor personal communication skills 
and have little confidence in their own abilities to do outreach 
, leading scientists to think they might actually hurt the public’s perception of science if they engage in outreach activities.
Lack of encouragement at the institutional level is another common impediment to the participation of scientists in outreach activities 
. Little support of such work from departments, mentors, and advisors is a salient barrier for both graduate students and faculty members 
. Additionally, a widespread conception among academics is that dissemination of research findings beyond peer-reviewed journals is “dumbed-down” 
science and thus not undertaken by the most talented of researchers 
. Therefore, little institutional assistance or approval is given for the creation of outreach programs or involvement in outreach opportunities 
Research on the popularization of outreach activities for U.S. scientists is lacking (For one exception to this see a report by the National Science Foundation which shows that 42 percent of scientists engaged in no public outreach. Among others, scientists gave the reasons of not having time and not valuing outreach. See http://pus.sagepub.com/content/20/1/3.full.pdf
, accessed 4/11/12).
Gaps in Research
In general there is more comprehensive investigation of the public’s understanding of science and perception of science outreach 
than investigation of perceptions of outreach among the scientists with whom the public interacts. To date, there have been no nationally representative studies to determine which scientists are engaged in outreach or what types of outreach they do. Investigation of these questions has most often been programmatically driven, where scientists involved in a particular activity are queried about the frequency of their outreach participation and motivation for participation. While there is some research on perceived barriers to outreach, such barriers are not explored in depth, and little research 
has occurred after the implementation of the Broader Impacts Criterion for evaluating National Science Foundation grant applications. Finally, we know little about the views of scientists’ outreach efforts across a broad variety of institutions and disciplines in the United States, other than that most scientists portray science outreach in a negative light 
. And there is lack of knowledge about how scientists at elite academic institutions, in particular, view these activities and about the attitudes of their institutions toward such work, despite the fact that some scientists at elite research universities are leaders in their disciplines, more likely to set the tone for science outreach initiatives nationwide. In short, the onus of science outreach work is put on scientists’ shoulders, yet we know little about what scientists themselves think about issues of outreach, how it ought to be done, and what strategies could be most effective in creating better outreach efforts.
To fill these important gaps, we conducted semi-structured interviews with a random sample of academic scientists at elite universities in the United States, classifying respondents’ outreach activities in relationship to their target audiences. We investigate whether scientists at elite research universities engage in science outreach at all and, if so, what types of projects they undertake. Finally, we also ask what impediments scientists face when attempting to engage in outreach efforts and what strategies scientists believe the scientific community could be using to facilitate such efforts.
The sample for this study was randomly selected from a larger study of Perceptions of Women in Academic Science (PWAS), which included a survey and in-depth interviews with scientists housed in the top twenty graduate programs in biology and physics –two core science disciplines– in the United States. Both survey and interview questions focused on scientists’ perceptions of challenges they faced throughout their careers. During just the interview portion of the study, respondents were also asked about involvement in science outreach efforts, though this topic was not included in the survey. An initial survey sample of 3,455 scientists was chosen randomly from among all graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and tenure-track and tenured faculty members in departments with the top 20 graduate programs in all subfields of physics, astronomy, and biology as ranked by the National Research Council (1995) and corroborated by the more recent U.S. News & World Report rankings (2008). The survey achieved a 72 percent response. Following completion of the survey in February 2009, we conducted semi-structured qualitative interviews with a smaller random subsample of those who completed the survey, resulting in 150 interview respondents. Ninety-seven of these respondents were asked questions about their perceptions of science outreach and their specific outreach activities, including the following:
- I wonder if you are involved in any work aimed at translating science to individuals outside the academy or the scientific community. Could you tell me a little about these efforts?
- Do you think scientists in general are doing a good enough job at translating science to broader communities? Why or why not?
- [If no to above] How could they be doing a better job?
The interviews were entirely transcribed. A coding scheme was developed, and all interviews were coded. Inter-coder reliability checks were conducted, in which two coders coded the same interview and their work was checked for consistency. The inter-coder reliability check had a reliability statistic of. 90.