Faculty News

Lemos serves on NSF Advisory Committee for Environmental Research and Education

“There is always service you can do beyond research, writing grants, and teaching and I find that extremely rewarding. At the end of the day, it’s about having impact in the real world.”


Maria Carmen Lemos, professor and associate dean for research in the School for Environment and Sustainability, studies how and why practitioners and policy makers use scientific knowledge to make decisions. She serves on the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Advisory Committee for Environmental Research and Education, which advises the director on environmental research and education.


In her role, Lemos helps the NSF look for ways it can further support and research environmental issues across all of its directorates. One of the NSF’s current priorities is to find ways to make scientific knowledge more usable, and Lemos’ background is well-suited for that mission.


Commenting on her biggest contributions to the committee:


The project I’m leading now centers on what the NSF calls convergence science. Broadly speaking, this is about taking the methods, approaches, and techniques from different disciplines and applying them to other discoveries and solving problems. And it’s about valuing not just the knowledge scientific research produces, but also how it’s used for society’s benefit.


It’s a new approach to doing science, and I’ve been leading discussions and a workshop to try to operationalize that on a larger scale. Researchers often utilize intermediaries between themselves and practitioners — much like organizations here at U-M like the Great Lakes Integrated Sciences & Assessments (GLISA)  Ginsberg Center and Graham Sustainability Institute. But we need to deploy more of those strategically and on a wider scale.


Advice to peers considering this type of engagement:


I’m very passionate about this issue of knowledge usability. It’s part of my research and how I’ve been involved in my career. I think everybody can relate to an issue they are passionate about, and we are trained to go that extra mile. There is always service you can do beyond research, writing grants, and teaching and I find that extremely rewarding. When you talk about engagement, diversity is the key. There are many different ways to engage. You can engage by working through a committee, working with industry, working in the community, or being politically active.


On the value of being publicly engaged — to herself, the university, and society.


It’s amazing to me because every time I meet with another advisory board there is always somebody from the University of Michigan. Here at the NSF we have two U-M faculty who are directors, at the highest levels of leadership. The fact that this university produces the kind of scholars that do that kind of service is a positive reflection on our commitment to our public mission. It also reflects a culture that incentivizes faculty to reach those levels. I’m very happy when I hear President Schlissel talk about the role of the university because he is so committed to engagement and I think that’s necessary for a public university and our society.