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Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights and Law Program

On-call Scientists

FAQs

For Potential Volunteers

For Potential Hosts

For Potential Volunteers

Q: What do volunteers do? What would my contribution be?
A: Volunteers work in partnership with host organizations to bring the tools, techniques, training, and unique perspective of scientific disciplines to specific human rights questions and projects. What volunteers do will vary depending on the needs of the host organization and the human rights project. Volunteer scientists may answer scientific questions about evidence or methodology; provide specialized expertise in investigations (e.g., medical forensics); design a survey or help with sampling; and more. There are any number of ways volunteers can contribute outside their field, as well: reviewing documents for scientific accuracy, researching topics in scientific journals, or helping to identify the appropriate discipline for a host organization. For examples of how scientists have contributed to human rights work, read about How Scientists Can Help.

Q: What kinds of organizations serve as hosts? Will I work with a government?
A: On-call Scientists matches volunteers with reputable non-governmental human rights organizations and national human rights institutions. In some cases volunteers may be invited to help non-governmental organizations that, while not human rights organizations, are pursuing rights-based approaches in their area of work (i.e., using international human rights standards as the basis of their work, and being operationally directed to promoting and protecting human rights). No placements with government agencies will be made. The focus of On-call Scientists is on strengthening the capacity of human rights organizations which, often under-resourced, are unable to access the scientific expertise they require to hold governments to account for their human rights responsibilities.

Q: Why human rights organizations? What kinds of issues do they work on?
A: SRHRL’s mission is to bring science and scientists specifically to efforts to advance human rights. The issues that human rights organizations tackle are as varied as the human rights enumerated and protected in the International Bill of Rights and treaties that have followed. These include civil and political rights, such as freedom of expression and free and fair elections, and economic, social and cultural rights, such as the rights to food, housing, health, and a healthy environment.

Q: How can I be sure the human rights organization is reputable?
A: As part of the registration process, host organizations must submit three credible outside references. SRHRL is committed to doing what we can to ensure that both volunteers and host organizations have a positive experience.

Q: What kind of scientists do they need?
A: Human rights organizations can require input from scientific experts across a wide variety of disciplines (e.g., public health, statistics, engineering, economics). Life scientists, mathematicians, physicists, chemists, and social scientists can all contribute valuable skills and knowledge that can aid in the advancement of human rights.

Q: Do I need prior experience working in human rights?
A: No. One of the benefits of volunteering for a project of this nature is that, in the course of providing your expertise to a project, you will have the chance to learn more about human rights.

Q: Am I guaranteed a volunteer position if I register?
A: No. Volunteer positions are based on the requests for expertise that we receive.

Q: Will I have to travel? Where would I go and for how long?
A: Many aspects of the volunteer experience are dependent on the needs of the host organization. If the host organization is located out of state or overseas, travel may be required. Location and length of stay is contingent on the requirements of the project. As part of the registration process, you can specify if you are able to travel.

Q: If travel is involved, who pays for travel costs?
A: Payment for travel, accommodation, and living expenses is negotiated between volunteers and host organizations.

Q: Can I work remotely?
A: In many cases, yes. Some organizations will not require on-the-ground work in order to utilize the knowledge and tools that volunteers can provide. On-call Scientists may find that they are able to provide host organizations vital assistance on projects by phone or email, or via the Internet.

Q: Would I work alone or with other volunteers?
A: As a volunteer, you can look forward to working with the staff of the host organization, and might also be working with other volunteer scientists. The nature of your work, including who you might be working with, is dependent on the nature and needs of the host organization.

Q: Will SRHRL pay for the expenses of volunteers?
A: No. SRHRL is unable to meet any expenses incurred during the volunteer experience. Responsibility for any expenses (including travel, living expenses, insurance, etc.) is negotiated entirely by the volunteer and the host organization.

Q: I am not a citizen of the United States. Can I still volunteer?
A: Yes. On-call Scientists is intended to be a global network. Citizenship requirements will depend on the location and needs of the host organization. Scientists from all countries and regions of the world are encouraged to register.

Q: How do you select volunteers?
A: After basic eligibility is established, volunteer information is reviewed by a committee composed of scientists and human rights practitioners. Volunteers are primarily chosen based on their area of expertise and how well it serves the needs of the project proposed by a hosting human rights organization. For more information, please see the section on the Matching Process.

Q: How do you select host organizations?
A: After basic eligibility is established, host organization information is reviewed by a committee composed of scientists and human rights practitioners. Only reputable human rights organizations are considered as possible hosts. For more information, please see the section on the Matching Process.
 

For Potential Hosts

Q: How can volunteer scientists help our organization? What kinds of scientific expertise can volunteers provide?
A: There are many and varied ways in which science and scientists can contribute to human rights work, for example, through the use of forensic and genetic sciences to identify victims of mass atrocities, the application of statistical and information management techniques to document large scale human rights violations, and the use of electronic encryption technologies to protect human rights communication. On-call Scientists will be drawn from all scientific disciplines, and may be able to provide a range of support, including data collection and analysis, review of documentation or evidence, training in scientific methodologies, and technology adaptation. For examples of the contributions scientists can make to human rights, read about How Scientists Can Help.

Q: We do not know what scientific expertise we need. Can you help us identify our needs?
A: We will do our best to answer questions that you may have. If we are unable to assist you, we will try to put you in contact with someone who can help.

Q: Our human rights organization is new. Can we still host a volunteer?
A: You may host a volunteer providing you are able to provide three references that can attest to the credibility of your organization.

Q: Can we request more than one volunteer?
A: Yes. There is no limit to the number of volunteers any particular organization may request, so long as the project(s) for which you seek a volunteer requires the expertise of more than one scientist.

Q: Once we have registered, are we guaranteed a volunteer?
A: No. Two key factors will determine whether your organization is matched with a volunteer: (1) the eligibility of your host organization; and (2) the interest and availability of a suitably skilled volunteer scientist.

Q: How long will it take to get a volunteer once we have registered?
A: We try to find the best possible match between volunteers and host organizations. The amount of time necessary depends largely on the pool of eligible volunteers and the requirements of each party.

Q: How long will a volunteer work with us?
A: The duration of the volunteer’s work with you will depend on the specific project to which they are contributing, and your agreement with the volunteer scientist.

Q: Is there a fee for registering?
A: No.

Q: Are we responsible for any expenses?
A: Responsibility for any expenses (including travel, living expenses, insurance, etc) is entirely negotiable between the volunteer and your organization. The AAAS Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights and Law Program is unable to meet any expenses associated with the volunteer’s work with your organization.

Q: Is SRHRL or AAAS responsible for the outcomes of our collaboration?
A: No. AAAS SRHRL’s only role is to match volunteer scientists with human rights organizations. We are not responsible for the outcomes of those collaborations.

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