Social Impact/Activism

Social activists work to promote, guide, or impede changes in government or business policies and influence the actions of individuals and groups. They build connections among groups and communities and disseminate information on specific issues to create awareness and influence social change.
Many of society’s problems are related to the chemical systems that make up the environment (or the chemicals that pollute it), medicines and agricultural chemicals that can affect standards of living, and leaders who abuse their own people or their opponents in war. International teams of scientists can act as diplomats among their respective nations, working to communicate their common goals to their fellow citizens and national leaders, or they may do forensics work to detect the use of chemical weapons or monitor environmental treaties. Scientists may also work to improve standards of living in developing nations by helping citizens set up education programs, provide and implement new technologies, and/or create new jobs in areas such as environmental remediation and sustainable agriculture and manufacturing processes.

Typical Work Duties

  • Communicate with thought leaders, policy makers, business leaders, or community organizations through publications, speeches, public events, or media.
  • Research the effects and implications of legislation, business activities, and local customs.
  • Organize responses to natural and human-made disasters and destruction of the environment.
  • Formulate position statements, goals, and priorities for campaigns.
  • Participate in international delegations to monitor treaty compliance and build cooperation through formal and informal diplomatic efforts.
  • Track environmental changes, chemical weapons, disease epidemics, and pollutant spread on local and global scales.
  • Develop messages and talking points for movement spokespeople.
  • Work toward improving the standard of living in developing nations by opening channels for financial resources, education, and technology from developed nations.

Technical Skills

  • Research and writing skills and an ability to translate scientific and sociological studies into compelling narratives for policymakers and the general public.
  • Critical thinking and analytical skills to build a case for your cause and develop persuasive responses to opposing points of view.
  • Physical stamina and a willingness to travel and work unconventional hours.
  • Computer skills, including website design and management, statistical research and analysis, desktop publishing, online survey software, e-newsletter content and mailing list management, and social media management.
  • Graphic design, photography, and videography skills.
  • Foreign language skills and knowledge of foreign cultures and customs.
  • Business management skills, including project and personnel management, fundraising and budgeting, and knowledge of tax and legal requirements.
  • An ability to speak in front of large audiences, testify at legislative hearings, and give interviews to members of the press.

Career Path

Unlike many chemical specialties, social activism can be pursued on any level, from part-time volunteer work to running your own non-profit organization. Many activists start as volunteers for non-profit groups, professional societies, academic organizations, political campaigns, or neighborhood organizations. Scientists can use their expertise to help craft talking points, write op-ed pieces, or serve as subject matter experts at town hall meetings and hearings. Because many activist and advocacy efforts are informal or entrepreneurial in nature, career paths and income can vary widely. Official sources of labor statistics often list activism work according to specific job functions. Some typical job titles include: community organizer, community outreach specialist, foundation director/executive, lobbyist, public relations specialist, and program director. Those wishing to become more involved may apply for fellowships or grants that allow them to spend a year or two working full-time on specific issues at think tanks, government agencies, universities, or non-profit organizations.
Full-time careers include project management work at foundations and non-profit organizations, which may lead to leadership positions in these organizations. Some individuals use their experience to establish their own non-profit enterprises to address specific issues. These enterprises range from one-person operations to global efforts employing hundreds of people. The most common employers are organizations employing fewer than 100 people.

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