April 2011

Student-postdoc Hill Day: a Capitol success

ASBMB held its third student/postdoc Hill Day this past March. The event was a huge success, with 16 young scientists joining forces with members of ASBMB’s PAAC and public affairs staff to make 58 visits to House and Senate offices.

The senators and representatives visited for Hill Day
Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-La.
Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif.
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.
Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio
Rep. Jo Bonner, R-Ala.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.
Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio
Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C.
Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif.
Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md.
Sen. Robert P. Casey, D-Pa.
Rep. Michael E. Capuano, D-Mass.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.
Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Ky.
Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I.
Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md.
Rep. Danny K. Davis, D-Ill.
Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, D-Conn.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill.
Rep. Anna G. Eshoo, D-Calif.
Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
Rep. Marcia L. Fudge, D-Ohio
Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas
Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.
Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill.
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah
Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn.
Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass.
Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio
Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y.
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I.
Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont.
Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.
Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.
Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y.
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.
Sen. David Vitter, R-La.
Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.
Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

Graduate students and postdoctoral fellows descended on Capitol Hill in March for the third student/postdoc Hill Day, an initiative of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s Public Affairs Advisory Committee. The tremendously successful event, now an annual fixture in the ASBMB public affairs schedule, had more participants than ever and included twice as many office visits as last year’s Hill Day.

On March 15, 16 young scientists joined forces with members of ASBMB’s PAAC and public affairs staff to make a whopping 58 visits to House and Senate offices in addition to meeting with the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and the House appropriations committees. “They certainly had a full schedule,” said Ben Corb, ASBMB’s director of public affairs.

Students were paired with PAAC members from their home states and primarily met with their own congressional delegations. “We want to remind members of Congress that scientists are also their constituents,” Corb said. “It’s great for them to meet some of the young scientists they represent and to hear the enthusiasm and dedication that these students bring to their research.”

ASBMB’s public affairs office prepared customized materials for each office visit showing the amount of National Institutes of Health funding directed to the state or district and an overview of its economic impact. The teams used this information to underscore the importance of NIH funding and the critical role the federal government plays in supporting biomedical innovation.

In addition to providing district-specific information, each group made the case for ASBMB’s federal funding targets in the fiscal 2012 budget. These targets include an allocation for the NIH of $35 billion to retain the gains made during the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and a fiscal 2012 budget of $7.8 billion for the National Science Foundation.

Despite Congress’s historically strong support for biomedical research, the participants acknowledged the challenges presented by the current economic climate. “In a time of severe fiscal challenges at every level in our country, I think it’s important that those in power don’t forget that American science 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,” commented Drew Pruett, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

As important as the budget numbers are, the fundamental message of the day was one all ASBMB members could identify with: Biomedical research saves lives and stimulates the economy through innovation.

Although many of the student participants were new to advocacy, this year’s group included two returning participants, Lauren Amable, a postdoctoral researcher from the University of South Alabama Mitchell Cancer Institute, and Angel Byrd, an M.D./Ph.D. student from Brown University. Byrd, who intends to study childhood obesity as a pediatric endocrinologist, hoped her visits helped convince lawmakers of the “power of research and the long-term investment in its goals and vision.”

Meet the Hill Day Attendees
We asked our student/postdoc Hill Day attendees to answer some questions so we could learn a little more about them.

PAAC members, many of whom have logged long hours in the halls of Congress, thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to accompany the students. “Interacting with the congressional offices is a vital way to connect about the importance of research to our country’s well being, and it’s clear the representatives and their staffers paid particular interest to the young people and their stories,” observedSusan L. Forsburg, PAAC member and professor at the University of Southern California.

Overall, it was a terrific experience for the student participants, many of whom commented on how much they had learned. “It’s been really beneficial for me, and it’s been a great way to learn about science policy and how the budgeting process works,” said Kristen Kelps, a doctoral candidate from the University of Kentucky. Rob Watkins, a doctoral student at Montana State University, added, “It’s opened my eyes to a lot of new things ... As a biomedical researcher and end-user of government-allocated funds, I underestimated the complexities of the decision making behind federal spending.”

By the end of the day, several students had remarked on the importance of standing up for science and said they would encourage their peers to do the same. Eric Patridge, a postdoctoral associate at the Yale University School of Medicine, concurred. “Events like today’s are absolutely essential to the future of the NIH and our research as scientists.”

Hopefully, other student and postdoctoral members of ASBMB feel the same way and will consider helping make next year’s Hill Day an even bigger success.

Angela Hvitved (ahvitved@asbmb.org) is managing editor of Molecular and Cellular Proteomics.

Below is a slideshow from the 2011 Hill Day. For more photos, go to the ASBMB Flickr page.

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