By Chris Pickett
On March 19, 13 members of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Public Affairs Advisory Committee took a group of 19 students and postdocs to Capitol Hill for our seventh Student/Postdoc Hill Day. These groups conducted 77 meetings with their elected representatives and staff to explain the importance of scientific research. The messages we carried to the Hill concerned sequestration and federal funding for research, immigration reform and restrictions on travel of federal scientists (1 – 3).
Our meetings often began with us voicing our concerns about federal funding for research. We explained how budget cuts have put a severe strain on the American research enterprise and put the research careers of many young scientists in jeopardy (1). Nearly all of the people at the offices we visited acknowledged that the government should play a role in funding basic research, and most were supportive of increasing research funding. The problem, many told us, is entitlements and tax reform. Members of each party have very different views on how to resolve these issues, and funding will remain tight and sequestration will remain in place until a compromise is found.
Next on our agenda was advocating for relaxing immigration regulations for foreign scientists who earn degrees in the United States and choose to remain in the country afterward (2). Again, most of the people we met were supportive of our position of allowing noncitizens who earn an advanced degree in a science, technology, engineering or math field to remain in the United States to work. The sticking points on immigration legislation have to do with a guest-worker program and a pathway to citizenship, issues that have little to do with scientists. Once these issues are resolved, immigration reform legislation will move forward.
Finally, we discussed the serious negative effects that restrictions on the travel of federal scientists could have for the entire research enterprise (3). Most of the people we met with did not realize the negative consequences this legislation could have on scientific research. As a result, the ASBMB will begin to reach out to policymakers to illustrate the importance of scientific conferences to the enterprise as a whole.
At the end of Hill Day, we were treated to an additional lesson from two fantastic scientists, Maxine Singer and U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J. Singer, co-recipient of the ASBMB 2013 Howard K. Schachman Public Service Award, credited Schachman with inspiring her “to get involved in what we did not call then science policy, we just called part of science.” Holt, a former nuclear physicist, and Singer both spoke at length about the necessity for scientists to get involved in the political process and engage the public. They applauded our volunteers for their eagerness to get involved and encouraged them to recruit others as well.
- 1. ↵ Corb, B. ASBMB Today. November 2012.
- 2. ↵ Corb, B. ASBMB Today. March 2013.
- 3. ↵ Pickett, C. ASBMB Today. April 2013.