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Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life

Civic Science

Science is complex, uncertain, and can be divisive. The Civic Science Initiative at Tisch College seeks to unravel its complexity, to embrace the uncertainty, and to speak across differences on divisive science issues. Civic Science informs how we can bring divisive science issues into our civic lives. It helps us make well-informed choices on science issues through dialogue across difference to promote civic action, political advocacy, and community revitalization. 

Tisch College strives to advance Civic Science through a series of courses, trainings, programs, and events that enable Tufts students and other members of the university community to consider how to act on complex science issues that impact our lives. Our Civic Science initiative aims to reframe the ways that key participants—scientists, the public, the media, institutions of higher education, and other stakeholder can impact the national dialogue at the intersections of civics and science by:

  • Redefining the role of higher education in promoting science for the public good, by teaching skills that can transform science-based information into actionable civic knowledge
  • Redefining the role of the scientist in society by training scientists to implement a participatory approach that fosters an understanding of science as relevant and accessible
  • Redefining the national conversation on divisive and complex scientific issues to create a more inclusive exchange of ideas through dialogue that connects evidence-based science to our values, beliefs, and choices.

The Civic Science Initiative at Tisch College and its related efforts are led by Dr. Jonathan Garlick.

Civic Science Courses

Each year, we offer a series of undergraduate Civic Science courses that give students the knowledge and tools to create civic change on science-based issues of societal consequence. The 2018 Civic Science courses are:

TCS 94-04PJS 50-01

Science and Civic Action

Instructor: Jonathan Garlick, Tisch College Senior Fellow for Civic Science

This course teaches students conceptual approaches and practical skills needed to effectively create change on science-based issues that impact our lives and communities. The course links science issues to our professional, personal, and civic responsibilities and equips students to help others make critical choices on divisive or complex science issues. Future scientists and engineers will acquire skills that build civic capacities, while students from the humanities and social sciences will learn skills indispensable for positive civic action. This course aims to strengthen inclusivity through pluralistic and dialogic approaches to science learning and civic action.

TCS 94-01PJS 50-02

Special Topics: Dialogue, Identity & Civic Action

Instructor: Jonathan Garlick , Tisch College Senior Fellow for Civic Science

This course offers students in-depth training in dialogue facilitation to develop skills needed to take civic action for positive social change. Students will facilitate the creation of spaces to communicate openly about contentious or divisive issues and will work towards breaking down destructive communication habits like avoidance, silence, or reactive responses, by enabling participants to feel truly listened to. Students will design conversations and facilitate dialogues that build deep listening and mutual understanding and will be trained to conduct dialogues when there is a need to intervene to support difficult conversations on campus and in their communities.

TCS 94-01CHEM 94-01

Freshman Seminar: Science & the Human Experience

Instructor: Jonathan Garlick, Tisch College Senior Fellow for Civic Science

This small-group, first-year seminar allows students to reflect and share personal views about science issues that really matter. Through conversation and dialogue, we deepen understanding of all points of view, beliefs, identities, and values and share questions of genuine curiosity that enable learning about the science-based issues that impact our personal and civic lives.

No previous experience in the life/natural sciences is required. The course is approved for Natural Sciences distribution credit.

Civic Science Events

Tisch College organizes and supports several Civic Science events that engage the Tufts community by connecting contemporary and often polarizing science issues to our civic lives and responsibilities. Led by Dr. Garlick, Civic Science Roundtables are designed as interpersonal dialogues in which participants from diverse backgrounds can reveal their personal stories and communal values on science issues in ways that break down stereotypes, inspire curiosity, and build empathy. Recent topics have included DNA ancestry testing, the opioid epidemic, the vaccine debate, the Planned Parenthood controversy, genetically modified food, and human cloning.

In addition, we are planning a series of university-wide Civic Science Educational Forums to serve as open conversations and information sessions on divisive contemporary public science issues. These forums will help diverse constituencies throughout the broader university community consider their views and choices related to civic dimensions of scientific issues.Our first Forum, to be held during the Fall 2018 semester, will be on sports-related head injuries.

Check back soon for a calendar of scheduled Civic Science events.

Science Communication Training

We train undergraduate students, graduate students, and post-docs with skills needed to communicate their research to diverse audiences. Through interactive and fun improvisation exercises, discussion, and practice, participants can develop essential skills to communicate their work, powerfully engage their listeners, and significantly contribute to a public understanding and enthusiasm about their research. These workshops help scientists connect with diverse audiences and speak clearly and conversationally about why their research matters. When scheduled, Science Communication workshops will appear above in the events calendar.

Building a Culture of Communication to Inform Health-Related Choices

The Tufts Clinical Translational Sciences Institute (CTSI) develops innovative engagement approaches that empower patients, community leaders, researchers, and caregivers to make better-informed, health-related choices. The Institute works to provide these various stakeholders with the perspectives, knowledge, skills, and awareness to fill crucial evidence- and values-based gaps in how they understand and apply health science information. Through collaboration with the CTSI, our Civic Science initiative supports an exchange of information, knowledge, perspectives, and preferences among these various groups that differ in their expertise, power, and values. We implement dialogues and discussions of controversial or confusing scientific issues, such as participation in clinical trials, vaccines, health care access and affordability, and drug safety, which serve as springboards for addressing community concerns about these and other matters.

Tisch College Dialogue Fellows

Civic Science depends largely on the ability to conduct productive conversations about complex and often controversial issues. Our Dialogue Fellows program trains students to facilitate these conversations for the benefit of the Tufts community.

Faculty Training in Classroom Dialogue

We invite Tufts faculty to learn how to implement “dialogues across difference” in their classrooms in order to foster and conduct meaningful discussions on scientific and other contentious issues.