News from the Hill

Advocates visit Capitol Hill

Benjamin Corb
May 1, 2019

Twenty undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral students joined members of the Public Affairs Advisory Committee and public affairs staff to participate in the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s annual Hill Day on March 28, visiting their elected representatives to discuss Congress’ continued support for biomedical research.

Callan Callan Frye, a graduate student at the Medical University of South Carolina, shows his enthusiasm for advocacy at the ASBMB’s 2019 Hill Day. Courtesy of Callan Frye

Although President Donald Trump’s budget request for fiscal year 2020 called for 5 percent cuts to all science funding agencies in the government, the advocates were heartened by the warm reception they received. Martha Cyert, associate chair of biology at Stanford University, said, “It was encouraging to hear staffers share their support for my science and their understanding of the importance of basic research in helping to discover treatments for diseases. They really seem to get it.”

The agenda for this year’s Hill Day advocates focused largely on asking for increases in funding at the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. But the discussions with lawmakers and their staffs extended to issues beyond funding, indicating a Congress that has a nuanced understanding of and curiosity about how science works.

Kristine Deibler, a postdoc from the University of Washington, was surprised by some of the topics. “My senator’s staff was very direct and interested in hearing about my perspectives related to the issue of sexual harassment in science,” Deibler said. “I was so encouraged to see Congress paying such close attention to this very serious issue.”

This year’s advocates came from 24 states and conducted 83 meetings over the course of their day on the Hill. The student participants, selected from a pool of applicants by the ASBMB’s public affairs staff, arrived in Washington, D.C., the night before Hill Day for a crash course in being an advocate. PAAC members stayed through the following day for meetings with NIH and NSF leaders.

“This Hill Day experience is among the most rewarding opportunities that ASBMB (offers) for its members,” said Matt Gentry from the University of Kentucky, the outgoing PAAC chair. “ASBMB isn’t the only scientific society that holds events like this, but in my experience the organization and staff put on the best show by far.”

Gentry has been a member of the PAAC for five years and is a Hill Day veteran. For some, like Alex Blackburn, a Ph.D. student at the University of Idaho, this Hill Day was their first taste of advocacy.

“This was a very positive, very fun experience,” Blackburn said. “I got to meet really great people on both sides of the aisle. When I get back to Idaho, I look forward to telling my colleagues that they should consider getting involved themselves. I definitely would love to do this again.”

Benjamin Corb

Benjamin Corb is director of public affairs at ASBMB.

Join the ASBMB Today mailing list

Sign up to get updates on articles, interviews and events.

Latest in Policy

Policy highlights or most popular articles

US travel bans: Bizarre and ruthless
Open Letters

US travel bans: Bizarre and ruthless

Aug. 4, 2021

Continuing travel restrictions have prevented the author and thousands of other international scholars from seeing their families for a year and a half.

ASBMB responds to proposal for new health research agency
Blotter

ASBMB responds to proposal for new health research agency

July 27, 2021

Society recommends keeping funding for ARPA-H separate from that of other agencies and developing a unique strategic plan.

Why is the FDA funded in part by the companies it regulates?
Funding

Why is the FDA funded in part by the companies it regulates?

July 4, 2021

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration receives almost half its funding from companies it regulates, such as drug and medical device makers. Is this something you should be concerned about?

ASBMB calls for changes to Title IX policy
Blotter

ASBMB calls for changes to Title IX policy

June 16, 2021

Society urges Department of Education to revise rule created by Trump administration.

Rethinking the NIH review system
Reimagining

Rethinking the NIH review system

June 10, 2021

Proposals for change include a tiered grant funding system, tweaks to scoring and criteria, internal reviews and a continuous submission system.

Analysis: Mounting pressure on China about coronavirus ‘lab leak’ could backfire
News

Analysis: Mounting pressure on China about coronavirus ‘lab leak’ could backfire

June 9, 2021

Where the coronavirus originated remains a mystery, and the Chinese are bucking demands to let investigators see more.