ASBMB supports the formation of the congressional GRAD Caucus

July 21, 2022

The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) applauds the formation of the bipartisan Graduate Research and Development (GRAD) Caucus on July 13. The caucus, co-chaired by U.S. Reps. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., Mike Doyle, D-Penn., and Stephanie Bice R-Okla., was established to provide a formal platform to discuss and advance policies that support the needs and interests of graduate researchers.  

As outlined in its one-pager, the GRAD Caucus plans to focus on topics that will (1) enhance the accessibility for people of all backgrounds to attend graduate school, (2) create or improve policies that support and strengthen graduate student training, e.g., increasing funding for fellowships and traineeships, improving mental health and mentorship practices, and (3) expand the pathways for post-grad graduates to transition into the U.S. workforce.

Graduate students are essential to the biomedical research ecosystem. They conduct a substantial portion of experiments, data analysis, teaching and other responsibilities at academic universities. Despite their critical role contributing to discoveries and scholarship, their amount of compensation, benefits and personal time are highly variable depending on their institution and program.

The formation of the GRAD caucus was spearheaded by current graduate students at Carnegie Mellon University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. You can read more about these student leaders and their vision for the caucus in an article by the Journal of Science Policy & Governance.

Divyansh Kaushik, a grad student organizer at Carnegie Mellon, summarized the importance of a caucus for graduate student in a tweet, saying that “Graduate research is the backbone of our nation’s innovation system. We must build on our advantage and fortify our standing as a global leader in R&D.”

The caucus is calling for other U.S. representatives to become members and contribute to its efforts. The ASBMB encourages STEM advocates and graduate students to reach out to their representatives and encourage them to join the caucus. In particular, the ASBMB would like for more members of the caucus to represent the views of historically marginalized groups in scientific research.

There are hundreds of congressional member organizations, commonly called caucuses, coalitions or task forces, in Congress. These informal groups, including the GRAD caucus, bring together lawmakers who are motivated to raise awareness about a particular topic and provide a structure for exchanging information or ideas with colleagues.

ASBMB graduate members are likely to benefit from the policies developed and championed by the GRAD caucus in the near future.  The ASBMB suggests the GRAD caucus consider investigating policy solutions for creating both equitable training environments and sufficient compensation and benefits for graduate students regardless of the type of institution they attend. The caucus should also ensure that the need to increase opportunities for STEM Ph.D. holders to stay in the U.S. research workforce and contribute to the U.S. economy after graduation is highly prioritized.

The formation of the GRAD caucus presents an exciting opportunity for the ASBMB public affairs team to identify ways it can assist in shaping policy solutions for the systemic issues that affect graduate researchers and their futures.