November 2012

The ASBMB message on Capitol Hill and beyond

In early September, 20 graduate students and postdocs from around the nation accompanied 10 members of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Public Affairs Advisory Committee on its fifth semiannual Hill Day. The Hill Day participants had a full schedule, conducting 70 meetings with congressional representatives and their staffs. They had meetings with representatives from 26 states, effectively demonstrating that biomedical research is a national endeavor.

The ASBMB representatives delivered clear and concise messages to their members of Congress and their staffs. Previously, participants asked for increases to the National Institutes of Health budget and discussed legislation relevant to the ASBMB membership. This time, however, they focused on two points: (1) the threat of across-the-board budget cuts and the devastating effects they would have on biomedical research and (2) maintaining the United States’ competitive edge over countries that are outpacing its investment in biomedical research.

Taking the message home
Talking to representatives in Washington is an excellent way for the ASBMB to demonstrate the importance of the national biomedical research enterprise, and the students and postdocs who participated in this event were highly effective. But an additional goal of the Hill Day is for the participants to take the ASBMB message and their newfound knowledge and excitement for advocacy home to their family, friends and colleagues.

Photo of Danny Miller 

Danny Miller, an M.D./Ph.D. student at the University of Kansas Medical Center and the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, lives in Kansas and works in Missouri. While in Washington, Miller met with representatives from both states, but he wasn’t done. After the Hill Day, Miller went home and scheduled appointments with the district offices of U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver, D-Mo. “I found that the meetings at home were at a much different pace than in Washington,” he said later. “The conversation was much more relaxed, and we enjoyed some back and forth about the issues. It gave me time to put a much more personal frame around the conversation.”

Photo of David Coleman 

David Coleman, a graduate student from Louisiana State University Health–Shreveport, and Melissa Branham–O’Connor, a postdoc at the Medical University of South Carolina, both went home to encourage their colleagues to get involved. Branham–O’Connor was clearly energized by the Hill Day: “As scientists, we should all be concerned with NIH funding, and in our current economic environment it is even more imperative that we engage as many of our colleagues in actively advocating for (research and development).” Coleman agreed, saying, “This advocacy event was a great experience for me and is something I had underappreciated. I know I will be much more involved and will encourage those around me to be as well.”

Photo of Corey Snelson 

Corey Snelson, a postdoc at the University of Washington, blogs for the Forum on Science Ethics and Policy, Seattle, and focuses her writing on the intersection between biology and public policy. Snelson blogged about her Hill Day experience, saying, “I left feeling quite excited about the future of biomedical research and found that taking part in some small way in my government to be an empowering and instructional experience. I highly recommend everyone give it a try!”

While the ASBMB can deliver effectively the message about biomedical research to offices here in Washington, it depends on energetic people like those who participate in Hill Day to take that message home. Biomedical research is a national endeavor, and the efforts of the Hill Day participants once they leave Washington demonstrate that advocacy on behalf of biomedical research is too.

Photo of Chris PickettChris Pickett ( is the science policy fellow at the ASBMB.

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