Science Corner: The Top-Down Route to your Community

neighborhood photo

We can define our neighbors in a variety of nonspatial ways, but we shouldn’t exclude our geographic neighbors in the process. (Photo by AldebaranTM)

HL asks:

What I am seeing is that the understandably busy lives of even highly motivated Christian professionals often lead them to become more and more isolated from those parts of society most in need of outreach, friendship, and fellowship from Christians. So…how can those in the hectic years of research, working on getting those final papers done for the PhD, etc., not lose touch with the problems within their own local community?


One way to approach this question is to consider what the problems of our local community are. For scholars, the first connection to a problem might come through their studies. For example, at work I have recently been investigating how we can support public health as they address growing numbers of deaths from heroin and other opioid drugs. This problem has been garnering a lot of media attention very recently, from a recent segment on 60 Minutes to the front page of my local paper.

According to this discussion the heroin problem is best understood in a broader social and public health context of increasing anxiety, pain and despair which are expressed in drug dependency, suicide, and other negative outcomes. That particular story convicted me of the reality that the data I was analyzing was connected to unmet human needs. And it was especially striking, in light of Helen’s concerns about academics being disconnected from their community, that lower education was one of the key risk factors for all of the health problems mentioned. There but for a bachelor’s degree…

Of course, a starting point like this might still leave the problem abstract. I can see from the data that these issues affect my metropolitan area, but that doesn’t actually tell me much about my immediate community. And so this isn’t a complete answer to HL’s question, but I still think we should remain sensitive to ways that our professional work might connect to our community. And whether or not heroin addiction specifically is the most pressing concern in my local community, my work has been a good reminder to stay aware of the hurting and the unmet needs of my neighbors, no matter how they are expressed.

Do you have examples of how your professional work led to a connection with the needs of your local community?

I will be exploring this question throughout November. Please chime in with a comment if there’s a particular direction you want me to take that exploration.

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Andy Walsh

Andy has worn many hats in his life. He knows this is a dreadfully clichéd notion, but since it is also literally true he uses it anyway. Among his current metaphorical hats: husband of one wife, father of two elementary school students, reader of science fiction and science fact, enthusiast of contemporary symphonic music, and chief science officer. Previous metaphorical hats include: comp bio postdoc, molecular biology grad student, InterVarsity chapter president (that one came with a literal hat), music store clerk, house painter, and mosquito trapper. Among his more unique literal hats: British bobby, captain's hats (of varying levels of authenticity) of several specific vessels, a deerstalker from 221B Baker St, and a railroad engineer's cap. His monthly Science in Review is drawn from his weekly Science Corner posts -- Wednesdays, 8am (Eastern) on the Emerging Scholars Network Blog.

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