Candidate Q & A: Leanne Roulson

Note: Also see the official candidate statement. Voting will open on May 15. Check your email for voting instructions and note that only members who have renewed for 2018 are eligible to vote.

  1. With the 150th anniversary of AFS approaching, can you explain what the Society stands for now and how it should prepare itself to succeed in the next 150 years?
    AFS’s role now is focused on professional development and communication within the fisheries profession. Our communication conduits of journals and society meetings have been the go-to for generations of fisheries scientists. With the advent of lightning fast communication venues such as blogs and social media, AFS is competing to stay relevant while still providing the necessary peer review of emerging science that is the basis for our strong reputation. In the coming years, I would like to see AFS develop ways to respond to emerging science so that we can continue to be a source for best practices, professional growth, and inspiration in the fisheries world. I have expanded on these topics in the questions that follow.
  1. What is one role that AFS does not currently fulfill that you believe could be important in the future and why?
    I would say that AFS could expand its role as a source for timely science information. We lead inside our profession as a source for state-of-the-art science, but the integral role of science in common life makes it even more important for AFS to increase its profile as a source for fisheries management information for more than just the research and agency communities.  As fisheries-related events hit the headlines (invasive species, fish kills, consumption alerts), it is important that we make an effort to help the public understand why these events are noteworthy and how the fisheries managers in their communities are working to support healthy waters.In a wider context, I support the work AFS is doing now to expand our relationships with decision makers in our government. As policies grounded in science are challenged, it is critical that AFS be the source for what the fisheries management and research communities have documented about issues like imperiled species, coastal management, watershed impacts, and aquaculture. We have reached outside of our usual circle to have a Policy Director whose training is in how law and policy works. Ms. Winters is a critical part of how AFS has increased its presence “on the hill,” run webinars for chapters grappling with local policy challenges, and helped AFS leadership decide when to weigh in or join with other like-minded groups on science-related issues. I believe this is a good example of how AFS can be savvier in recruiting diverse talent to facilitate work that is important to AFS’s mission, but not part of a typical fish biologist’s preparation.
  1. Science is being challenged in government and in our society. What can AFS do to better respond to this challenge and ensure that our institutions persist and the science that they develop are used properly and effectively in resource management?
    As scientists, we recognize that uncertainty and replication are integral to science moving forward. However, these concepts are not often understood by the people at the forefront of government and business. They prioritize action and return. It is essential that AFS maintain its reputation as an objective, frank communicator of how policy and management affect fisheries and aquatic resources. Objective means that we present the accurate science, and frank means that we do it in a way that is understandable and connected to the concerns of other groups. The recently formed Science Communication Section is a great step towards providing assistance to our membership in how to talk to a variety of audiences. I have given presentations at AFS meetings and with current university students on the importance of being understood by your audience. Our science and the pursuit of scientific knowledge is laudable, but if we are not able to impart how what we’ve learned can be integrated into resource management or policy, then its value will go unrealized. One of the things I have valued most about being a consultant and being involved in AFS at the Division level is that I get to hear about similar issues from different perspectives. My work is not limited to one state, so I hear about native species conservation in the mountains and in the deserts, and I see how the struggles are often linked to getting the public to value the habitat or the species. The most effective managers are those who can place the ecological need into a cultural context and give the decision makers understandable, robust, relatable reasons for their projects or policies.
  1. How can AFS better contribute to increasing diversity in the profession?
    There is no lack of qualified people out there. There is a lack of opportunity and support for less traditional populations entering and sticking with science and technology education and careers. This year both of our 2nd VP candidates are women, which is great. To get past the point where we notice that the candidates are not men, AFS should actively work to address implicit bias. The workshop at the Tampa meeting was an excellent start, and I would advocate for adding this type of training to every meeting, similar to the “AFS Leadership at all Levels” model that is offered at most Division and Parent Society meetings. In addition, current upper-level scientists need to vocally support, attend, and be open to these kinds of trainings. As scientists, we are trained to recognize patterns and make connections. Recognizing implicit bias is one way to acknowledge that some of the patterns we see in our current colleague population are not the only patterns to replicate when we hire new employees, network at meetings, or recruit students.  To welcome all types of scientists, we have to get past the filters and expectations for what our colleagues should look and sound like. AFS can also support opportunity equity by continuing to provide parental support at meetings and encouraging adaptive approaches to career tracks.  I have two children and am very fortunate to continue to be able to adapt my career to be there for them. This did not happen without effort. Career interruption is a real cost primarily borne by women and recognized in the literature if not in HR departments. Minority populations often face obstacles to completing a degree that are cultural as well as economic. Acknowledging gender and racial barriers to perseverance in fisheries is a start to overcoming them.
  1. AFS has thousands of “Chapter Only” and “Affiliate” members who are not AFS members. What should AFS be doing to transition these fisheries professionals to AFS membership?
    Chapter affiliates often say that they do not see any real value to becoming Parent Society members. They may be focused on their region and their close colleagues, and do not see a reason to expand their connections. Some are faced with a lack of support from their employer. So an area where AFS could increase membership value is explicitly touting the need for and benefits of connecting across our professional community. Affiliates usually attend their chapter meetings, but attend Division or Parent Society level meetings less frequently. Increasing Division and Parent Society presence at Chapter meetings would provide an opportunity to showcase what AFS does. I understand that AFS’s budget is limited, but it is unlikely that affiliates will see the value of an entity that is not there.Working to make our presence more visible in the arenas where scientists look for information today would also be an effective method. Reducing the time between submittal and publication and diversifying how we disseminate information would be a start. The recent webinars on pertinent topics have been a positive contribution to what AFS offers, and continuing and expanding on these would be beneficial. Although I do not believe cost is a major barrier to membership, I do see agency/university/employer support of AFS as critical. If an employer values AFS membership, then its employees will join and remain members. If an employer discourages meeting attendance or limits it to head scientists, then AFS will lose potential members at a critical point in their professional development. Members of our Governing Board are often leaders or managers at their agency/university/employer. We need to actively market the value of AFS to our respective budget offices and champion society membership as an investment in employee development.
  1. At the end of your presidency, how will you know you have succeeded through advancing the Society (domestically and/or internationally)?
    I am heartened by the increasing rate of change both in what the population at AFS meetings looks like and where our members come from. I am disheartened by what appears to be a “missing year class” of professionals in the middle of their careers in my own Chapter, and worry that this is replicated across AFS. Entry-level scientists and students are encouraged and sometimes financially supported to attend meetings and make their way in the profession. As they mature, some of the barriers to diversity come into play and we see attrition in both meeting attendance and professional roles for minorities. This is a stage when it is hard to find time to contribute outside of your immediate career, and unfortunately this is also a time when fisheries and other “natural sciences” lose talent to other career paths for a variety of reasons.  I would like to see AFS hold on to our high-quality fisheries professionals and recruit people to leadership at an earlier stage in their careers. When I leave the AFS leadership, I would hope to see more mid-career professionals actively participating in committees and AFS leadership.  It would be easier for AFS to meet the changing needs of our profession if we had direct input from the people shaping that change. Five years sounds like a long time, but in reality, change can be slow. I hope that we can push for a more “punctuated evolution” model of change and find ways to recognize and overcome some of the reasons why the diversity we see in our young professionals is less evident as they move into the middle of their careers.
  1. Please tell us something unique or compelling about you that will help you to succeed as an AFS officer and president?
    My career and life have crossed several regions and disciplines. While this makes me less specialized, I believe it also makes me more aware of how transferable skills and knowledge can be and how much we have in common as people interested in fish and waters. I enjoy learning about people, places, and challenges. I also enjoy collaborating on ways to strengthen science as a force in human communities. All people are dependent on the ecology of the world, perhaps most directly their local ecology. Many people are separated from that connection and have (incorrectly in my opinion) identified technology as the science on which they are most dependent. Modern media advertise many medicines and amazing apps and machines that make our lives easier. There are few ads for the benefits of clean water or ecological diversity. Communicating the ways that we as biologists contribute to the greater world’s function and increasing awareness of biology outside of the medical and technological realms is something I believe I do well. I also believe that my extensive experience in public outreach has prepared me to assist traditional scientists to make their research or resource management program visible in a way that is understandable, relatable, and interesting to audiences they may have not considered before. As a member of the Parent Society leadership, I would work to make the most of opportunities to expand the audiences we reach, improve the visibility of what it is that we do, and increase understanding of why that work is important. Thank you for this opportunity.