In this episode of the McKinsey Global Institute’s Forward Thinking podcast, co-host Michael Chui talks with Jayshree Seth, a corporate scientist and the chief science advocate at the 3M company. She covers topics including:
- How the human context can be brought into the practice of science and engineering
- Expanding talent pipelines into STEM fields
- The role of leadership in technical fields
Michael Chui (co-host): Janet, one of the fun things about doing this podcast is talking with some incredibly accomplished people in various fields.
Janet Bush (co-host): Indeed. I think we have had three Nobel Prize winners on as guests.
Michael Chui: But we also try to make sure we invite people who are good communicators of ideas. And this is also true of today’s guest, who is both an accomplished engineer and innovator, but also has an additional title of “chief science advocate.”
Janet Bush: I’m looking forward to learning more about what someone with that title does.
Michael Chui: Dr. Seth, welcome to the podcast.
Jayshree Seth: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.
Michael Chui: Let’s start with your background. Where were you born? What did you study in school? How did you end up being a chief science advocate?
Jayshree Seth: A little bit about my journey: I actually grew up in India on the campus of one of the oldest and most prestigious engineering institutes there. And my dad was a university professor, so we lived on the campus. I was surrounded by STEM professionals: scientists, engineers.
All of us kids, my brother and I, all our friends, we were highly encouraged to go into STEM. And back in the day, where I grew up, and when I grew up, when your parents “strongly encouraged you to do something,” you just go along.
I was actually more drawn to humanities subjects, and I was drawn to fields where this contextual pull of a human context was strong. And I just didn’t see that in STEM fields at the time. But in looking back, I’m glad I did pursue STEM, because my humanities mindset has actually paid rich dividends in my STEM journey.
After my undergrad, in chemical engineering, I ended up in the US for graduate school. And during my PhD program, I came to 3M as a summer intern, and they offered me a full-time position. So I graduated, and I came back the following year, and I joined 3M.
It was a company I had really never heard of just a year before. But here I was, and I started in the area of components for diapers. And I had actually never seen a diaper before. It was quite an incredible experience, to develop tapes and adhesives and fasteners and elastics for babies that really can’t give us much feedback. I brought in this sense of empathy and a user-centric view, because I think science is a very human endeavor and does have a strong humanities context. We just don’t talk about it.
I made that a cornerstone of my career, and also in this additional role that I was asked to take on in 2018, that of the first-ever chief science advocate for 3M. I’ve been doing that role in addition to my role as a scientist.
I’ve been at 3M for almost 30 years now. And over the years I’ve worked on many different products and technologies, mostly industrial, and I have risen through the levels and am currently at the highest level a scientist can attain at 3M. And I bring in a human context in all I do.
I’m a generalist. I chase after problems to solve, and I like to say I may not be qualified to work on most of what I work on, but I feel justified.
Michael Chui: There’s a lot to talk about here. I think many of us feel a certain amount of “imposter syndrome,” oftentimes unjustified. I certainly do, a lot of the time. But let’s start with this chief science advocate role. What does a chief science advocate do? Or what do you do? And why would a corporation have such a role?
Jayshree Seth: Science is our most distinguishing characteristic. It ties our businesses together; it’s the foundational strength behind our brand at 3M: “Science. Applied to Life.” Our purpose is to unlock the power of people, ideas, and science—to reimagine what is possible.
We care about science, and we’re always interested in what the world thinks about science. And we were trying to understand if there was a recent survey that had been done which was global in nature to understand what the public perception was. This was in 2017, and we didn’t find anything, so we actually commissioned one.
We went to 14 countries, a thousand respondents per country. And when the results came back, it was kind of jaw-dropping, at least for me.
Forty percent of those surveyed said that if science didn’t exist, their lives would be no different. And 32 percent of those surveyed said they considered themselves science skeptics. And in this population, 60 percent said if science didn’t exist, their lives would be no different.
Jaw-dropping, isn’t it? But now get this: they were taking their survey on? Laptops and mobile phones. So it’s very clear that science is invisible, underappreciated, and taken for granted. And that’s when we decided that these results really can’t be something that we hold close to our vests. This is something that needs to be shared. We need to really foster a global conversation around this topic.
I was called upon to become this chief science advocate, a new role that was created to advocate for science. We need people to appreciate science. It has far-reaching consequences.
Of course, with the pandemic, things have changed, and actually, now science is really having its moment because people saw the role science and scientists can have in getting us out of situations like the pandemic. And also, connecting up with the issues and challenges we face, like sustainability.
That’s how my role was created. I got the call, you know? Michael, it’s funny, you hear people tell the stories, “Well, I got the call,” and I’m like, “You did not ‘get the call.’” Well, you do get the call—because I got the call.
Michael Chui: Did you say yes immediately?
Jayshree Seth: It’s funny that you ask. I was actually sitting in Amsterdam airport when the call came, and my first reaction was, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a minute. What is this role, now? Because I’ve never heard of this role.” And if you Google it, you see it doesn’t really exist anywhere.
The other thing in my mind was, “Oh, my gosh, they’re asking me to be the chief science advocate? I can’t do that. Because I need to let them know that I was never interested in science and engineering, it was literally my parents who pushed me into this field. I’ve never secured admission to any top colleges, and I came into 3M through the back door as a summer intern. So I really have to let them know this.”
And then I was thinking about, “Well, who did they ask? And how did they define ‘science’? And how can people say this?” and all those questions. And then it finally all started coming together for me, my own story of how we don’t inspire young people to science by saying the things that can be inspirational for a lot of us.
Also, my experiences in raising my kids, a son and a daughter. And it was very clear how the content was enough to inspire my son, but with my daughter it was always the context. The context was so important to her. I realized, it isn’t just the science and how you define it, or whatever. It’s the perception the public holds, and we really need to advocate for it. So I took this role on, and I’m really glad I did.
Michael Chui: What do you do in the role?
Jayshree Seth: Every year we do the survey. We have been doing it since 2017, like I said. I speak to the results of the survey, communicate the key messages from there—what we’re finding, what the state of science is, what is it revealing around the world? In 2022 we went to 17 countries.
Then we also do a lot of programming based on what we find. For instance, one of the data points that was very clear was that we need to do more to encourage women and girls to go into STEM and stay in STEM. Eighty-eight percent of the world agrees that we need to increase diversity in STEM, and things like that.
One of the things we did, which I’m really proud of, was a docuseries that 3M created. Now, you may know us for our Post-it notes, and for our Scotch tape, and now most people know us also for our N95 respirators. But we created a docuseries called Not the science type.
It basically highlights the journey of four women scientists and their paths. We basically want to inform and influence and inspire, and to shatter the stereotypes of who enters and who persists and who excels in STEM. That’s just one example of the kind of things we do as a result of the results becoming available each year.
In the past, we’ve done a podcast series, and we pick apart the results of the survey. We have done a series called Beyond the beaker, where we portray scientists as regular people. Because the results of the survey basically said that people think scientists are elitist, they’re chasing some things, and that’s not connected to real life, etcetera.
We also created a Scientists as storytellers guide, and it’s downloadable from our website. And it basically gives tips on how to become a good communicator.
In 2020, when 55 million kids in the US alone were transitioning to this in-home learning, we created Science at home, a video series where diverse 3M scientists and a few guests, using simple household materials, do some experiments that people can follow along, kids can follow along.
And then I talk a lot and I write a lot. I talk at different events; I give presentations, keynotes. We pull in celebrity spokespeople just to amplify the messages. And then I write, and most of my essays are actually compiled in the two books that I’ve just completed.
Michael Chui: There’s a lot to pull on here. Let’s start with gender and STEM, which is a topic that you’ve written about and spoken about a lot. In many scientific fields, we see underrepresentation of women. We’ve been fortunate, on this podcast, to have prominent scientists such as yourself, Jennifer Doudna, etcetera. And yet, if we look statistically, oftentimes women are underrepresented in STEM fields. Why? What’s going on?
Jayshree Seth: That’s something that we think about a lot. It’s interesting. Even if you go back to the social science experiment on “picture a scientist,” “draw a scientist,” at a very young age, girls draw women. But by the time they’re older, they start drawing men as scientists.
Obviously there’s a lot of social conditioning at play, and things that stop girls from imagining themselves, and even their entire gender, in the field. Role models have a strong role to play. When you look at a textbook, do you see a lot of women portrayed as scientists? That has a role to play.
There’s the role of media and the portrayal of scientists as, let’s say, evil, or a genius, or a maverick, or a loner, or a nerd, or socially awkward, or, usually, a male. Those kinds of things really don’t inspire girls—or boys, for that matter.
That is changing, and has to change a lot to give a more wholesome image. And the way I like to say it, “It’s time for STEAM cleaning.” You have to shatter the stereotypes. You have to provide exposure and encouragement. You have to tell the whole story about science.
What I mean by that, it is that science solves problems. If you have problems, you can solve them by pursuing STEM, and talk about the human context of these problems. Then we need men as allies and advocates. This is not a zero-sum game. We’ll all benefit from it.
And finally, metrics and measures. Sometimes without those, things just don’t change. We have to put some metrics and measures around diversity.
Michael Chui: For listeners who didn’t catch it, I think you made an intentional pun when you said “STEAM cleaning.” Can you say what “STEAM” means, please?
Jayshree Seth: Science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. But mine is: “S” is for “shattering stereotype,” “T” is for “telling the wholesome story,” “E” is for “exposure and encouragement,” “A” is for “allies and advocates,” and “M” is for “metrics and measures.” I’m a big fan of creating this acrostic style.
Michael Chui: Indeed. Indeed, at least one of your books is absolutely full of really provocative acronyms. But what’s interesting between STEM and STEAM is the addition of arts. I’ve also read that you have also talked about “SHTEM,” with “humanities” as the “H” in there.
Jayshree Seth: I can give you my shtick. It’s SHTEM: science, humanities, technology, engineering, and math. Because that human context, and bringing the humanities, and those fields, and the liberal arts into the sciences is phenomenal for science.
In our drive for answers, the humanities context can drive us towards asking the right questions. Where science is seeking to analyze, humanities can help us synthesize. And I think it’s just a nice rounding-off because it allows you to think empathetically and critically, and communicate more effectively.
Michael Chui: Can you make that real for us? You’re a chemical engineer. I remember when I was an undergrad, “chem E” was considered one of the quote-unquote “hardest” engineering disciplines. How is it that humanities or arts can inform, or connect with, science in a way that results in better outcomes, better products, or better services, or better inventions?
Jayshree Seth: I can give you an example from my experiences in developing diaper tapes. It’s interesting that you can ask the caregiver, and you can ask the parents, and you can ask a lot of people about what exactly you need to build in to make the best diaper tape possible. But really, the end user is somebody who just cannot tell you what they need in that diaper.
Michael Chui: The baby.
Jayshree Seth: The baby. And it always hit me, because it was like, “Yeah, we’re asking everybody,” but the end consumer, the end user has no say in it. Of course, we try to understand what is needed. I feel like I was consumed by that idea.
The way of thinking I had forced me to think about a baby, and what they’re going through, and envision what it feels like to have this on them, and how we can make a better and better product based on what they would want.
Some of the designs that we created, and some of the flexibility that we built in, and some of the softness, and those kinds of things—they were all driven by thinking through what this “user” who can’t really express themselves would have to say. Bringing those elements of empathy, along with the components of engineering, I think, is the right balance. And that really leads to better innovation because you’re giving it a very human context, in my view.
Michael Chui: Oh, that’s so interesting. Also hard, I imagine, again, just trying to imagine.
Jayshree Seth: It is. Because at some times, it’s at odds with the engineering principles, too. Because there are certain things for productivity and efficiency and speed and all of that. And you’re counterbalancing it with some of the needs that may impact those parameters.
It’s a good discussion. But that is exactly the reason you need that diversity of thought in that room—to have all these views so that we can come up with the best possible solution. And increasing diversity has been correlated with increasing innovation.
I also think increasing diversity can lend itself to people having a more positive perception of science. And of course, these days you have increasingly progressive customers, so it can increase loyalty as well.
Michael Chui: That’s both gender diversity and other types of diversity as well?
Jayshree Seth: Yes. Any vector that you can bring in. We have some huge challenges to face ahead of us, and we have to unlock the key to a sustainable future. And I think we need all the diversity we can muster to crack the code.
For somebody who didn’t start out thinking that they were a science and engineering kid, today I’m at the highest level you can attain, I’m the chief science advocate, I have 76 patents to my name. I think about it each and every day—how many ideas, how many innovations, how many students, and how many scientists are we missing out on because of how we teach, how we train, how we track, how we typify, and how we even talk about STEM?
If only somebody would have explained the context back then, “Look, this is going to be really helpful when we will have to grow crystals in space because materials will have to be made in space. When we have to go to Mars, you can’t come back to Earth.” “Oh, that makes so much more sense.”
It is so content focused—it’s always about the content. At that time, I wasn’t equipped to look for the context and develop that context. But now I am. With everything I do, I develop that context, and I will tell you it isn’t just me. I’m able to then mobilize the group, because you’ve got this clear vision of how it is helping the stakeholders.
Michael Chui: That’s remarkable. Basically, you’re saying, “We’re losing potential science talent because the way we describe science doesn’t always explain how this can help people.”
Jayshree Seth: Absolutely. And I saw that in the case of my daughter. She was extremely excited from that perspective, once she knew what the context of something was. But if you just focus on the content, she can’t get past the fact that she’s doing something and she doesn’t understand why it’s important.
There’s a classic example that I heard one time from Girl Scouts. When they say, “Who wants to earn a cybersecurity badge?” And, of course, girls not raising their hands. And when somebody said, “Who wants to help their grandparents from scams?” every hand goes up, because the context is so critical. “Oh, that will help my grandma and grandpa to make sure that they don’t fall prey to this.”
How many times, Michael, when you look around, you’ll see that we focus on content? Whether it is in the subjective descriptions, topic descriptions, job descriptions—it’s just so content focused.
In fact, there is research out there that suggests that underrepresented minorities have pro-social goals and then look for that communal context in things like science. It’s a win-win, really, because we have all these sustainability challenges we face. And we have all these minorities that we need in STEM.
We have to just put them together and say, “Look, you want to solve this problem for your community. Science needs you, and let’s do this.”
Michael Chui: You’ve reached the highest heights in your organization. You also write about leadership, and you talk about leadership. Can you say more about what you’ve observed in your career, and overall, about leadership?
Particularly at your company, as well as others that have a lot of technologists, they often have two tracks—a track for advancement that is primarily tech, on the merits of one’s technology contributions or scientific contributions. Another one is more around management. And you’ve made some choices in your career. And maybe you could just tell folks what you’ve learned and how you thought about your own choices.
Jayshree Seth: We are very fortunate at 3M. Not only do we have a strong culture of collaboration, a sense of empowerment, and communal context sort of built into our vision—“3M Science. Applied to Life.” And we also have dual tracks, as you say.
One is just technical, and one is, you can switch from technical to managerial, and you can have people responsibilities. And regardless of which path we follow and what career we end up in, I think real growth, and true leadership, and self-actualization comes from getting in touch with our feelings and dissecting them. Truly understanding our sense of identities and its evolution, because we do evolve.
And then tap into our needs at a very innate, human level and integrate these learnings with our lived experiences to really work through a tough transition, deep reflections, and meaningful actions. And at the end of the day, it is about what is inside all of us.
It just takes time to notice and read and realize this FINE print. I talk a lot about that in my second book, which is The Heart of Science: Engineering fine print. And “FINE” is essentially that: “feelings, identities, needs, and experiences,” in the Jayshree acrostic style.
The reason why I say that is the pandemic has clearly shown us that there is a lot more to leadership, and there’s a lot more to people and how we operate, what we think, how we feel. I really think that, regardless of which career you end up in, you have to think about where you’re going, what you’re doing, and how you’re doing it.
That leads to the subtitle of the first book, which is Engineering footprints, fingerprints, and imprints. Where you go, what you do, and how you do it is important because that’s the imprint that you leave on hearts and minds. And leadership is all about figuring out who you are, what’s holding you back, and how you can lead others and yourself in a way that you can be proud of.
Michael Chui: One other thing that we’ve talked about, and that you’ve talked about, and that we’ve touched on a little bit is underrepresented minorities in STEM fields. For some communities, while they enter STEM fields, they actually find some challenges advancing up corporate and other hierarchies. Any reflections on those, from your research and your own experience?
Jayshree Seth: It’s a significant issue. I think it’s very well known. And the problem is, especially in sciences, environments that lack diversity are essentially like echo chambers. The same voices continue to reflect and reverberate, and the problem sets are identified with the very narrow point of view.
That lends itself to vulnerability, and we don’t want that. We definitely want to increase the level of diversity at all levels, including in leadership, so we can identify and define problem sets adequately and strive for the best solutions.
It is a problem—but it is a problem across what I call the ecosystem. Essentially, from exposure to encouragement to empowerment, education, economics, and then all the way to equity in the workplace. We have to pay attention to this entire spectrum.
I’m very proud that 3M is very active in STEM encouragement in the communities that we operate in, right from early childhood education. This requires support from community leaders, and parents, and teachers, and educators, and employers all across this.
Because like you said, many enter STEM and may leave STEM. Many enter their careers and feel like they’ve been passed up for promotions because we don’t have good systems to have equity in place, and empathy, or the empowerment that people may feel of what they can and can’t do, or the stereotypes that hamper their progress.
There’s a lot that is being done. A lot more needs to be done. But I’m very hopeful that we’re making inroads into this issue. Things like Not the science type, the docuseries that we created, are really good to show that people can blaze their trails, and shape their careers, and follow their passions, and “bring in my interests,” like I did, with my interest in social sciences and humanities into STEM. The world will be better off for that diversity.
Michael Chui: That’s inspiring to hear. Let me come back to the fact that you’ve been at your company for almost three decades. It is famously an innovative company—you mentioned some of the products. I think it originally started manufacturing sandpaper, amongst other things, and invented the asthma inhaler that many asthma patients use around the world. But there are a set of practices about 3M. Long before Google started talking about their “20 percent time,” 3M had its “15 percent culture.”
Jayshree Seth: Yes, we did.
Michael Chui: What is that, and how in the world could that possibly work?
Jayshree Seth: Oh, it works wonderfully. It’s a sense of empowerment that you feel. It is understood that you’re going to be innovative when you’re at 3M. It’s part of an expectation. And for your time, you don’t have to report to your manager what you’re doing in your 15 percent. You can pick any idea that you think will benefit 3M and pursue it.
I have an idea that I’m working on in my 15 percent time. Let’s say I have an idea for a tape that can benefit in the division that I’m not in. But I’ve been exposed to some situation at home where I thought, “Hey, that could be a good product for those folks.” I can actually write a grant and receive a grant from 3M to work on this idea. So that’s there.
And then there’s an opportunity to convert that into a product for that division through our product development process. There’s a reward associated with doing these kinds of things, and there’s the constant socialization of the concept of being innovative.
It essentially forms the word “errors.” I get asked this question a lot, “How do you do this at 3M?” I talk about our technical forum that brings people together, because you have to bring people together. Once they’re together, they’re talking about all these different ideas they have, and other people feel empowered to help them because we have the 15 percent time. Which says, “Hey, you’re empowered: you can go work on things that you think help someone else, and it may not be anything to do with your own business unit.”
Then we have these grant programs that peers decide and give the money. It’s wonderful that the company has committees made of peers, where we can say, “Yeah, that seems like a great idea, and let’s pursue it.”
I call it, “If you don’t do all of these, these are ERRORS.” “E” is for “expectation,” “R” is for “resources,” “risktaking,” “O” is for “opportunity,” “R” is for “reward,” and “S” is for “socialization.” That’s my view on how we inculcate, maintain, foster this culture of empowerment and innovation, is by doing those things.
Michael Chui: You mentioned geniuses before. I do think there’s this myth of the “sole inventor,” and—it’s a myth. Because, in general, things are done in teams, usually small ones. So how does that work, though, if, as you said, you have some idea for an innovative product or invention? How do you get other people to work on it, if it’s your 15 percent time?
Jayshree Seth: We all are empowered to have our 15 percent time.
Let’s say I have an idea and I’m at a Tech Forum event. Tech Forum is the 3M technical community, and we come together for a lot of poster sessions, seminars, and things like that. And I say, “Hey, I think you’d really benefit in this division from having this product. Would you want to work with me in your 15 percent time?”
And people say, “You know what? Yeah, that’s sounds very interesting. I’d be interested.” Or they may say, “You know what? I’m working on something else very actively. But I know such-and-thus, who can help you.”
Then you discuss this idea, you plan some experiments, you do some literature searches. And then you go, “OK, we’ve done this, it looks promising, but to take it to the next level, we’ll need funds. So now let’s write for a grant.”
These are called “Genesis Grants.” You write for this grant and you say, “OK, five people from these different areas—I’m in the lab, this person is doing this in the technology lab, this person is doing this in application engineering, and this person is an analytical. And if we form this team, we can take this to the next level. Please give us XX amount of dollars, and we will show these results.” And then you can get the money and pursue that.
Let’s say you don’t happen to get the money that round. You can apply for the grant again, and you can still keep working on it for whatever you can do without having to spend a lot of money. Because you still are empowered to spend your 15 percent time on it.
Michael Chui: Got it. This is harking back to the leadership discussion. This is a set of leadership skills or things to do—recruiting other people, inspiring them about an idea, organizing, perhaps applying for money, and all those sorts of things.
Jayshree Seth: Absolutely. Absolutely. Those are the kinds of things that I’m not sure we teach our students. Maybe now they do, but how do you communicate? How do you interact with people? How do you put this picture together that’s a compelling narrative that influences others, that involves others, that inspires others, that instructs others, that informs others?
Those are critical skills for STEM professionals, in my view. Because, as you said, innovation is a team sport. It’s not something you do in isolation. You can have an idea, yes. But at the end of the day, to convert it into something that is a commercialized product, you need other people.
Michael Chui: Very interesting. Let me come back to another topic that you’ve raised. Again, you’ve been doing this State of Science survey in many countries for a few years now. And clearly, for the past few years, we’ve been experiencing a pandemic, which has been a huge part of our lives.
In some ways, it’s demonstrated the power of science. You cited some figures that illustrate how people are recognizing that more. But it has also had an impact on different people’s perception and understanding of science, and trust. What have you found as you’ve been examining this research over the years?
Jayshree Seth: It’s very interesting right now. Trust in science and scientists is the highest it has been. It’s primarily because, I feel, science was in the public discourse, and scientists were center stage during the pandemic. There’s no doubt in my mind that science played a huge role in vanquishing this pandemic.
We also saw that the public recognized that science and scientists and professionals in STEM have a huge role in shaping the future of the world. It’s very important for us to bolster the foundation of public trust in science because it’s giving them hope right now—hope for our planet, hope for our health, hope for the next generation in STEM.
We’re finding that the public is placing their trust in solving sustainability challenges. And they’re saying, “Yes, science can make a better solution set and can help with that, with the problems we’re facing.” And people are also seeing that science can help solve healthcare challenges—not just the pandemic, but other healthcare issues that people have.
For the first time it seems like those connections have been made. And then the way I like to really say it is that 2020 became the year to stem skepticism, because people saw the science of health for the health of science. Because when your health is involved, science got personal.
It gave a great opportunity for people to understand that science relies on data and debate and discourse and discussion. And aren’t we glad it does? And it’s a good thing that scientists change their recommendation as new data becomes available. It was the first time we got the opportunity to educate the public on how that scientific method works.
And people also recognized that you can trust science and scientists. So that is a good thing. Because we don’t want to be in this paradox of trust situation. Trust paradox, where people don’t want to understand science because they don’t understand science, and they don’t want to understand science because they don’t know about science.
Michael Chui: With that said, some other surveys have revealed the declining trust in institutions overall. As you said, the scientific process, not just hypothesis generation, etcetera, but the social process of it, can be quite confusing.
Because there are scientists who have real scientific credentials who engage in debates. Oftentimes someone can find somebody with a credential who says something, and it might be very different than the scientific consensus.
Of course, through scientific history, we’ve found people who went against the consensus, and they were right. How could a citizen who’s not an expert in vaccines or climate make sense of what appears to be a debate amongst scientists?
Jayshree Seth: That’s a really astute observation, because I think it played out during the pandemic. We clearly saw that when we didn’t have answers, and when the science hadn’t been communicated, and a lot of it was being developed on the go, we had the “infodemic,” because of misinformation and disinformation becoming rampant.
We all sort of developed a sort of—“pandemic logic,” it has been called. This logic had not just emotion but a whole lot more wrapped into it. It was also evolving and often impacted by whatever the latest conversation or debate or text exchange we had. It basically showed us that we are all social animals, and we’ll all figure out our own way till somebody comes up with a theory and tells us what is going on.
Critical thinking skills in my mind is “purposeful,” “reasonable and reflective thinking” when you are faced with complex issues and conflicting situations.
The first aspect of that is inquiry. It represents finding relevant information, it represents critically examining it, questioning the validity of assumptions, and then synthesizing the information.
Then the second aspect is argumentation, which signifies reasoning that supports an idea or theory or action. And you have to look at it in light of the evidence, and you have to weaken the other position. You can’t expect people to have scientific thinking, but it is good to have critical thinking skills.
Because scientific thinking is also under the umbrella of critical thinking, but that’s more about the meaning of information in scientific domains. Critical thinking just is important because there’s a lot of pseudo-science, as you said. And how do average, ordinary people figure out what is what?
Now we understand that there is a logic that we all develop when there’s a vacuum and when we are stretched or stressed or spent. And now we need to figure out, how do we make sure we have critical thinking skills so that we can’t fall prey to misinformation and disinformation, which is rampant? It will be a process of evolution. And then we have to keep inculcating in our young folks, our kids, and even our adults, the idea of critical thinking.
Michael Chui: I think that’s a terrific call to action. If you don’t mind, I’d love to end with a quick lightning round of quick questions and quick answers, as is our custom.
Jayshree Seth: OK.
Michael Chui: All right, here we go. What’s your favorite source of information that you use to keep yourself abreast of developments in science?
Jayshree Seth: I’ve got lots of things I follow on social media, so it’s Science, Nature, Scientific American, some podcasts, blogs. A lot of things, not just one.
Michael Chui: What do you find most exciting about science today?
Jayshree Seth: The convergence of different fields, the confluence of different thought processes. I think that’s—those borders and boundaries, the biggest scope for progress. I love that, when multiple fields come together.
Michael Chui: What worries you most about science today?
Jayshree Seth: What worries me sometimes is that, if we keep thinking too linearly, that would be a problem. I think we need to have more holistic thinking, and more dialectical thinking, sort of woven into how we think of science, not just in some linear fashion.
Michael Chui: What’s the one thing a country could do to best support progress in science?
Jayshree Seth: Make sure that we uphold the scientific method, and explain, and bolster that trust that that’s how it works. Because the one thing I’m noticing is the minute something happens, people say, “Oh, they changed their mind,” “Oh, they did this.” Well, that’s how it works. More data becomes available, recommendations change, and aren’t we glad they did that? Supporting the scientific method, educating about the scientific method, and appreciating the scientific method.
Michael Chui: What’s the one thing a company could do that would best support progress in science?
Jayshree Seth: Talk about the science behind their inventions, innovations, and give the scientists a human persona so that people are more willing to accept what comes. Because we’ve all seen that science can be rejected, and technology will not be trusted, and products will be obsoleted.
It’s no longer just about the practice of science. It’s also, who are the practitioners? It’s not just about the policies, it’s also about the politics. And it’s just not about one monolith of people, it’s also the perceptions we hold.
Michael Chui: What’s the one thing a parent could do that would help improve a child’s interest in and understanding of science?
Jayshree Seth: Encourage their curiosity. Indulge in their curiosity.
Michael Chui: If you weren’t doing the jobs you’re doing today, what would you be doing?
Jayshree Seth: I would be a journalist, I think. I just loved writing so much, so author or journalist is more like it.
Michael Chui: And what’s the one piece of advice you’d have for listeners of this podcast?
Jayshree Seth: I think everybody should find their discomfort zone and get comfortable with it.
Michael Chui: Wonderful. Dr Jayshree Seth, thank you very much for joining us.