National Institutes of Health Visit
Prior to Hill Day, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Public Affairs Advisory Committee took another of its customary trips to the National Institutes of Health campus to meet with the directors and deputy directors of various offices and institutes. Much like the subsequent visit to Capitol Hill, concerns about funding in tough economic times was a common talking point, but there was a general consensus among all parties that greater financial support of researchers is a priority; this led to a good deal of back and forth regarding the best strategies for increasing support. In addition, there was a fair amount of optimism that the appointments of Francis Collins to head the NIH and Harold Varmus to head the National Cancer Institute (the largest of NIH’s 27 components), both of whom have strong basic research backgrounds, was a positive turn for ensuring the NIH maintains a strong basic science commitment.
Specifically, the Hill Day attendees reinforced their position that Congress should, at a minimum, stick with the $32 billion National Institutes of Health 2011 budget recently approved by the House and Senate appropriations committees and, more importantly, ensure funding in future years sees some consistent, and sustainable, growth. With the research boost that was driven by the stimulus package just about finished, this latter point was particularly emphasized.
In addition to making their policy requests, the ASBMB delegation offered up the society’s services in helping any Congress member advocate on the behalf of science; this included providing scientific data, expertise from a member or even access to students or a lab for a good photo-op.
As expected, given the current economic climate and the uncertainties surrounding a lame-duck Congress that might receive a significant facelift come January, the responses and promises provided by the congressional staff were restrained. However, many of the individuals visited by ASBMB this Hill Day have been staunch advocates for biomedical research, and they understood the importance of supporting science in the short and long terms.
Nevertheless, the overall report card for the second installment of Hill Day would be a solid “A.” All of the students, postdocs and ASBMB team members involved praised the organization and execution of this event: “I feel really lucky to have been part of such a unique experience,” noted Ratika Krishnamurty, a fourth-year graduate student at the University of Washington in Seattle. “And, more so, I definitely learned many new things and met some great people.”
Such sentiments certainly were echoed by the other participants, which highlight another benefit of getting students and postdocs involved.
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.
“Not only does it afford us an opportunity to talk with our elected representatives in Congress, which itself is critically important,” said PAAC member Thomas O. Baldwin, dean of the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences at the University of California, Riverside, “but engaging young scientists in the process of public debate will pay dividends to the science community for years to come. These are our future scientific leaders.”
With such positive feedback, it seems certain that the Hollywood story will continue and that Hill Day will go from sequel to trilogy.
Nick Zagorski (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a science writer at ASBMB.
Below is a video slideshow from the 2010 Hill Day. For more videos, go to the ASBMB advocacy webpage.