Young scientists advocate
for research funding on the Hill

Students and researchers engage lawmakers in discussions
about roles of science, scientists in policymaking

Young scientists from colleges and universities across the United States arrived on Capitol Hill in June to meet with senators and representatives about the value of biomedical research. For a seventh year, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s Hill Day gave young researchers the chance to talk with lawmakers and congressional staffers about the work they are doing.

The participating undergraduates, graduate students and postdoctoral scholars collaborated with members of the ASBMB’s Public Affairs Advisory Committee to highlight the critical role that federal investments in research play in supporting the nation’s scientific enterprise and how those investments will lead to improvements in the quality of life and well-being of Americans.

Truszkowski and Sen. Whitehouse Torrey Truszkowski, a graduate student at Brown University originally from Providence, R.I., visits with U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.

“We were thrilled to bring such an enthusiastic team of scientists to be advocates on behalf of all of the biomedical research community,” said ASBMB Public Affairs Director Benjamin Corb. “During these challenging fiscal times, scientists must engage in the policy debates that are shaping investments in research and must make the case for why such congressional support is needed.”

The young researchers joining Corb’s team articulated these concerns to lawmakers and presented their own research. Oregon State University graduate student Kelli Lytle, who had participated in advocacy at the state level, said she values frank, face-to-face conversations with legislators. “It is no secret that funding in science has become more limited and more difficult to obtain,” said Lytle, who studies liver disease. “Many industries and companies have a lobbying budget that trumps our wildest grant-funding dreams, but what we have is the power of conviction and the ability to demonstrate that the work we do is not only important but fundamental to the very health and well-being of our populous.”

Kelli Lytle, Jeanette Osterloh and Sharona Gordon at the office of U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

Tyler Stanage, a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin–Madison said: “The ability to generate enthusiasm for your research project in the general public (is) one of the many skills paramount to conducting scientific research in the 21st century.” By meeting with lawmakers during Hill Day, Stanage, who studies bacterial DNA repair, said he hoped to show the value of funding scientific research in the face of budget cuts at his university. “I want to represent my institution and young scientists on Capitol Hill by combating some of the rhetoric surrounding the ‘frivolous’ nature of funding scientific research in the United States,” said Stanage. “Investing tax dollars in both basic and translational research reaps significant benefits: economically, scholarly and medically.”

Jarod Rollins, a postdoctoral fellow researching the molecular genetics of aging at Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory in Maine, said he believes “empirical evidence should be the cornerstone of every decision made in Congress” and that it is scientists’ responsibility to provide insights to lawmakers.

Melanie Alvarado, Amy Hawkins and Wes Sundquist meet with a staff member
in the office of U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

Melanie Alvarado attends the University of Alaska Anchorage, where she studies HIV. She said her Hispanic heritage inspired her to explore voter turnout within the Anchorage community as well as the population’s involvement in the scientific enterprise. She found participation to be low and hopes that her experience at Hill Day will help her garner more involvement in science. “By communicating my work and progress to a new group, I will be able to take this experience back home to encourage young individuals within my community to engage in the science field,” said Alvarado.

The 2015 Hill Day student participants included:

  • Tara Gonzalez of Howell, N.J., a graduate student at the University of Delaware
  • Jackie Thompson of Paola, Kan., a graduate student at the University of Kansas Medical Center
  • Melanie Alvarado of Anchorage, Alaska, a graduate student at the University of Alaska Anchorage
  • Torrey Truszkowski of Providence, R.I., a graduate student at Brown University
  • Kristeena Wright of Richmond, Va., a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate at Marshall University
  • Kimberly Sauls of Beaufort, S.C., a fifth-year Ph.D. student at the Medical University of South Carolina
  • Jeannette Osterloh of Orinda, Calif., a postdoctoral fellow at the Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco
  • Dakota Pouncey of Eureka Springs, Ark., an undergraduate student at Hendrix College in Arkansas
  • Taylor Fuselier, a graduate student at the Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans
  • Ryan Kelley of Tulsa, Okla., a graduate student at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center
  • Aminul Islam of Bethesda, Md., a postdoctoral fellow at Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Maryland
  • Chistopher Yarosh of Scranton, Pa., a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Pennsylvania
  • Joshua Mieher, a graduate student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham
  • Amy Hawkins of Sterling, Va., a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City
  • Megan Sheridan of Lake St. Louis, Mo., a graduate student at the University of Missouri–Columbia
  • Lynn Ulatowski of South Euclid, Ohio, a postdoctoral fellow at Case Western Reserve University
  • Kelli Lytle, a fourth-year doctoral student at Oregon State University
  • Tyler Stanage, a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin–Madison
  • Jarod Rollins of Pitssfield, Maine, a postdoctoral fellow at Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory in Maine
Lynn Ulatowski, a postdoctural fellow at Case Western Reserve University orignally from South Euclid, Ohio, visited with U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. Preston Hensely, Jarod Rollins, Torrey Truszkowski, congressional staffer Todd Adams and ASBMB policy fellow Sarah Martin visit the office of U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I.
Allison Frick Allison Frick is the ASBMB’s print and digital media specialist.