Spend some time with your member of Congress this summer.
Stuck in the lab this summer? Don’t lament a missed exotic vacation; instead, take the opportunity to embark on an equally exciting local adventure by getting to know your member of Congress. Legislators will depart Washington, D.C., to spend the recess between Aug. 6 and Sept. 6 back in their home districts interacting with constituents. From hosting town-hall meetings to shaking hands at local grocery stores, congressional representatives use this month to listen to the concerns and opinions of voters. While these discussions often focus on local topics like the economy and gas prices, they also represent great opportunities for scientists to put research in the spotlight.
"In addition to allowing time for talking about scientific issues and breakthroughs, the August recess offers constituents a chance to weigh in on the fiscal 2012 appropriations bills."
One of the best ways to increase the visibility of your own research is to invite your representative to visit your laboratory. American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology member Mark Wallert fondly recalls hosting Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., at his lab at Minnesota State University Moorhead in 2009. “It was a great opportunity to promote the research we do and let our students share their excitement for science with the senator,” he said. Wallert added that the experience provided “a rare opportunity to express my appreciation for the senator’s work for Minnesota and to encourage her to support enhanced funding for higher education in general and biomedical research in particular.”
Universities and research institutes often are important economic centers of districts, so lawmakers have vested interests in the performance and innovation outputs of researchers. Furthermore, giving legislators firsthand demonstrations of the experiments being performed at lab benches not only shows how funding for scientific research is being put to use but also creates indelible memories of the kind of cutting-edge work being done in their districts.
Politicians love using personal anecdotes to bolster their positions when debating legislation. More than pictures or words on a page, the hands-on experience offered by lab tours gives them compelling evidence they can use to convince others of the importance of supporting the scientific community.
Last month, Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., met with researchers and patient advocates during a tour of Northwestern University. While there, Kirk vowed to promote legislation that would strengthen support for stem-cell research, recalling the few treatment options his father had while suffering from pulmonary fibrosis and pointing to “the limitless potential of stem-cell research” as a means to treat disease and alleviate the kind of suffering his father experienced.
Lab visits also allow for the development of mutually beneficial personal relationships with lawmakers and their staffers. Wallert said he was impressed that Klobuchar “was kind enough to extend an open invitation to schedule time to meet with her in Washington, D.C.”
Meanwhile, ASBMB Public Affairs Advisory Committee member Janet Shaw, a professor at the University of Utah, has maintained a close relationship with the office of Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, meeting regularly with the congressman and his staffers both at her institution and in Washington during ASBMB’s annual Hill Day.
In addition to allowing time for talking about scientific issues and breakthroughs, the August recess offers constituents a chance to weigh in on the potential impact of proposed cuts to research.
In particular, the Labor, Health and Human Services subcommittee (which funds the National Institutes of Health) will consider its bill the first week of August, meaning that the legislation will be fresh on the minds of lawmakers when they are back in their home districts.
Be sure to contact the ASBMB public affairs staff for assistance if you are interested in engaging your member of Congress, whether it is by writing to him or her in support of scientific research, inviting him or her to tour your lab, or visiting his or her office in Washington. It's critical to have your voice heard!
Geoffrey Hunt (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the ASBMB science policy fellow.