Advocates visit Capitol Hill
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 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.”
Join the ASBMB Today mailing list
Sign up to get updates on articles, interviews and events.
While the agency has made progress with intramural cases, it has been less successful with extramural ones.
What the Supreme Court's DACA ruling means for undocumented students and the colleges and universities they attend
At least for now, hundreds of thousands of students can stay in school without facing new hardships.
As a result of the Trump administration’s actions and inaction, Ben Corb writes, the U.S. was late to adopt a testing protocol to help track and slow the spread of COVID-19.
The agency has investigated 189 scientists suspected of violating NIH policies and has found a majority of them guilty of failing to disclose foreign affiliations.
The Endless Frontier Act would rename, add a directorate to and pump up to $100 billion in new funding into the agency. It also would fix the uneven distribution of jobs and capital concentrated now in just a few cities.