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Young scientists to make the case for research funding on Capitol Hill

Students and researchers to address the roles of science and those who conduct it in policymaking

Jessica Bockhorn

Rob Watkins

Yun Xin Lim

Kevin Bonham

Mar. 14, 2011 -- Young researchers from universities across the United States will arrive at the U.S. House and Senate on Tuesday for talks with lawmakers and their staffs about how to keep the scientific research enterprise moving and how to fuel the pursuit for medical breakthroughs in a time of national economic uncertainty.

The undergraduate and graduate students participating in Hill Day, a twice-annual event sponsored by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, have a number of weighty issues they intend to address.

The 16 students will meet with, among others, the staffs of U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and U.S. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who serves as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee's financial services and general government subcommittee. Meetings also have been scheduled with U.S. Reps. Jo Bonner, R-Ala., Rodney Alexander, R-La., Jim Matheson, D-Utah, and U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.

One of the participants, Brown University med student and doctoral candidate Angel S. Byrd, says she intends to one day study childhood obesity as a pediatric endocrinologist. While visiting Capitol Hill, Byrd says, she hopes to concretize lawmaker's faith in the "power of research and the long-term investment in its goals and vision."

"My main goal is to provide a real-life example of an aspiring physician scientist who has been afforded the opportunity to engage in scientific biomedical research. Because of the training I am receiving, I will continue to contribute to and advance the fields of science and medicine. Funding that has been provided by the National Institutes of Health has accelerated and progressed the research that is ongoing in our laboratory and has allowed for multidisciplinary collaboration," the Jackson, Miss., native explained.

Melanie Krook, a biochemistry and French major at Miami University in Ohio, has participated in undergraduate research for the past three years and says she wants to emphasize to lawmakers how life-changing such an experience can be. "I hope to share with others the passion that I have for research and the positive impact it has had on my decisions for my future. The opportunity to conduct undergraduate research is what made me realize that scientific research was the field that I wanted a career in," says Krook, who intends to pursue cancer therapeutics when she one day has her own laboratory.

Columbus, Miss., native William Pruett is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Mississippi Medical Center and a father of two. He says he intends to communicate how funding scientific research will help keep America competitive. "In a time of severe fiscal challenges at every level in our country, I think it's important that the people in power don't forget that the American scientist played a big part in putting the United States in a position of power in the world and still shoulders much of the responsibility for keeping us there," he says.

Meanwhile, Kelly Ruggles, a graduate student at Columbia University, emphasizes that investigators conducting basic biological research "know that in these austere economic times future funding is not a guarantee." She says she expects the Hill Day event will be educational for students and policymakers alike.

"I expect it will provide me with the knowledge and skills to continue policy work in the future and encourage my colleagues to do the same. It will give me the knowledge of the inner-workings of policy development, as well as a view of the commitment our senators and representatives have to funding scientific research in the long-term," the Wantagh, N.Y., native explains. "In the end, I believe that what I gain from this experience will not only exceed my expectations, but it will also give me insights, ideas, and skills that I did not even anticipate."

Rob Watkins of Bozeman, Mont., echoes those sentiments. "As a biomedical researcher and an end-user of government-allocated funds, I tend to underestimate the complexities of decision making behind federal spending. This opportunity will grant me a general understanding of the processes behind government budget discretion as it relates to which institutions are given funding and how the dollar amounts are established," the doctoral student at Montana State University says. Watkins is slated to meet with both of his U.S. senators.

Other 2011 Hill Day student participants will include:

  • Vineet Gupta of Chhatarpur, India, a student at the University of Louisiana-Monroe
  • Lauren Amable, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of South Alabama
  • Erika Geihe, originally of Skaneateles, N.Y., a graduate student at Stanford University
  • Eric Patridge of Burlington, Conn., a postdoctoral research at Yale University
  • Jessica Bockhorn of Bethlehem Township, N.J., a graduate student at University of Chicago
  • Kristen Kelps of Ravenswood, W.V., a graduate student at the University of Kentucky
  • Kevin Bonham, originally of Santa Cruz, Calif., a graduate student at Harvard University
  • Laura Koontz of Southport, N.C., a graduate student at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
  • Kevin Roelofs of College Park, Md., a graduate student at the University of Maryland
  • Yun Xin Lim, originally of Melaka, Malaysia, a graduate student at the Oregon Health Sciences University
  • Heyward of Pine City, N.Y., a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania

The students will be accompanied by members of the public affairs committee of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, which includes:

  • Suzanne Pfeffer of Stanford University and president of ASBMB
  • Tom Baldwin of the University of California, Riverside
  • Susan Forsburg of the University of Southern California
  • Mark Rasenick of the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine
  • John Kyriakis of the Tufts Medical Center
  • Lee Gehrke of Harvard University
  • Richard Eckert of the University of Maryland School of Medicine
  • Rachel Green of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
  • Ron Bach of the Minneapolis Veterans Administration Medical Center
  • Mark Lively of Wake Forest University
  • Bob Palazzo of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  • William Merrick of Case Western Reserve University
  • Bettie Sue Masters of the University of Texas Health Sciences Center
  • Janet Shaw of the University of Utah
  • Kenny Offerman of the Salutramed Group

*** NOTE TO REPORTERS: For high-resolution photos of the 16 student participants before the event, visit http://www.box.net/shared/78q6bygijr. For photos after the event, e-mail Angela Hopp at ahopp@asbmb.org. ***