Science Advocate for a Day

A great way to advocate for science funding is by participating in Capitol Hill days. Many groups and professional organizations plan Capitol Hill Day visits where scientists get together to advocate for science and research funding by engaging with congressional representatives and staff on Capitol Hill. I recently participated in Capitol Hill Advocacy Day through the Association for Clinical and Translational Sciences annual meeting. Like many graduate students and postdocs, I had never before participated in a Hill Day visit. I was both nervous and excited about how the day would proceed, and was secretly hoping to bump into Elizabeth Warren.

 

Though my dream of meeting a senator did not come true, it was still a wonderful experience to be inside the Senate offices and advocate for science. As the attendees of the conference were from all over the country, the meeting organizers split us up into state-based groups. Most groups represented several states. For example, my group had clinicians and scientists from both Texas and Maryland. The organizers had previously scheduled our meetings with staffers from the offices of the Texas and Maryland senators. Other groups had meetings in other Senate or Congressional offices. Our job was to meet with the staffers and advocate for research by telling our stories and emphasize the importance of securing their support for continued NIH funding.

 

A powerful aspect of the visit to Capitol Hill was the unification of scientists across many disciplines and training levels as we came together to advocate for science. Interestingly, despite the diversity in career stages and disciplines, very few of us had ever formally lobbied for science funding. To help quell our fears, the meeting organizers offered advocacy training before we left for the Hill. They gave us a list of what to do and what not to do when meeting with congressional staffers and representatives. These were more common sense, like “do provide a persuasive argument” and “don’t be narrowly ideological.” The key point, which the training emphasized, was the importance of letting the legislator/staffer know why we care about science and research through sharing our personal stories. It became clear that all of our stories shared a common theme: We would not be who were are today without science and research. However, the major difference between the senior faculty and the graduate students was our disparate outlooks for the future.

 

Though we are all affected by the current less-than-ideal funding situation, the graduate students and early-career investigators are disproportionately at risk for securing funding. The lack of adequate research resources is actively deterring bright young investigators from pursuing a career in research. This will jeopardize the next generation of scientists and could reduce our global competitiveness in the future. Interestingly, it was sharing our personal concerns over these facts that seemed to resonate most with the congressional staffers. They seemed empathetic to our plight of a future without secure career paths, and offered their support for investing in science and biomedical research. Regardless of whether they support research for its role in advancing human health or to secure America’s global position in the future, it was refreshing to see support for research from the offices of all of the senators we met with.

 

It is evident that legislators are becoming increasingly supportive of science and research. It is now up to us to keep the momentum going and ramp up our advocacy efforts while they are receptive to our message. My experience on Capitol Hill taught me that advocating for science is not a daunting task. In sharing my experience with other graduate students and postdocs, I hope to encourage people to tell their stories to congressional leaders and staff. Sharing our narratives is truly the best way that we can collectively communicate our passion for science and advocate for continued federal funding for research. If you have the opportunity to meet with your congressional representatives and staff in Washington DC, I strongly urge you to do so because it is a very powerful experience. However, there are other ways to engage with your legislators. The ASCB has a great Advocacy Toolbox that can help you become an advocate for science. For example, you can start your own advocacy group, schedule a meeting with your representatives while they are in their home districts, write letters, or invite them to tour your campus.

 

It is critical for all scientists to advocate for science because the future of research relies on continued federal funding. Now is the time for our voices to be heard, so get out there and be an advocate for science. Please comment below and let us know how you have advocated for science, or if you have any additional suggestions for others to get involved.

About the Author:


Ashley is a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Sandra Schmid at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. She is investigating the mechanisms of focal adhesion turnover by clathrin-mediated endocytosis. Email: ashley.lakoduk@utsouthwestern.edu Twitter: @alakoduk
Christina Szalinski is a science writer with a PhD in Cell Biology from the University of Pittsburgh.

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