With sequestration resulting in across-the-board budget cuts, scientists are facing difficult times. To reverse this reckless action and for the U.S. to continue to be a leader in scientific progress, Congress needs to know the importance of government funding for basic research. Thus, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology issued the 100 Meetings Challenge once again this year.
Last summer, Benjamin Corb, ASBMB’s director of public affairs, challenged the society’s members to meet locally with members of Congress. This year, we face a new challenge, as limited biomedical funding is resulting in job losses and lab shutdowns across the country. Members were urged to speak with their senators and representatives to lay out the hardships facing scientists and the dire consequences of funding cuts. The ASBMB public affairs office then set up meetings, provided a training webinar, supplied leave-behind packets and prep materials, and gave advice to participants. By the time you read this, we will have accomplished our goal of 100 meetings.
The response from Congress was overwhelmingly positive. Almost all of the lawmakers and staffers, regardless of political affiliation, were very supportive of funding for the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. Many urged the ASBMB participants to have their colleagues also voice their concerns and tell their stories. Only time will tell if Congress can work harmoniously to reverse sequestration. In the meantime, here is what members had to say about their district visits:
Dan Raben, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, was our first volunteer to visit both of his senators and his district representative. After meeting with the office of U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., Raben told us, “It is always comforting to know there are knowledgeable people in Congress who understand our concerns and are working as hard as we are to address the issues we feel are important to the biomedical research enterprise in this country.”
A staff member for U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., arranged a meeting at the Minnesota State University Moorhead campus with professor Mark Wallert to save Wallert the long drive to one of Franken’s district offices. The visit proved to be fruitful. Wallert said the staffer promised she “would make every effort to have Sen. Franken visit my research laboratory to talk with me and my students this coming academic year.”
Malini Raghavan, a professor at the University of Michigan, met with U.S. Rep. John Dingell Jr., D-Mich. Raghavan said that “Rep. Dingell’s office had several suggestions to increase the local visibility of our research, including organizing open houses to explain our work to the public and communicating the impacts of our work via media channels.”
Some ASBMB members attended meetings together, which was quite helpful for scientists new to the process. Hardik Patel, a researcher at The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, met with staffers in the office of U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., with Kristy Lamb, a postdoc at Weill Cornell Medical College who previously participated in an ASBMB Hill Day.
“Kristy was magnificent and very enthusiastic. I learned a lot from her,” Hardik said. “Thank you very much for this wonderful opportunity. I thoroughly enjoyed my participation and feel very good about it.”
Jean Cook, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, was creative during her visit with the staff of U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C. “I brought a photo of my lab along with the ASBMB packet, and we discussed how the NIH money goes not just toward the experiments but primarily toward the salaries and stipends of trainees,” she said.
With the second annual challenge completed and our goal of 100 meetings met, the ASBMB public affairs office plans to make this an ongoing tradition. However, we need to keep our voices strong throughout the year. Stay tuned to see how you can participate in our next mission. Collectively, we can make a difference!