Public Policy and the Graduate Student Part 2: How to Make a Positive Impact on Science Through Public Policy


By Tamara Escajadillo

Greetings again from America’s Finest City (not that we see that much of it as graduate students, but I digress). It is time again to delve into the realm of public policy, but this time on a lighter note. For those of you who read the first article and thought, “I can make a difference, I just don’t know how” then this segment is for you! And for those of you who didn’t, maybe this can make for a good read while you are waiting for your PCR to run. While in the first article we talked about everything to do with budgets, this time we will focus on how all of us in the scientific community can get our message across to the people in charge of making and allocating these budgets.
Let’s start with the districts we have in California, specifically in San Diego, and our Congressional representatives. The state of California has two members in office in the United States Senate, and these positions are currently held by Dianne Feinstein (since 1992) and Barbara Boxer (since 1993), both from the Democratic Party. This will change soon though, because after over two decades in Congress, Barbara Boxer is retiring. Before the June 7th primaries there were 34 people vying for the seat, with Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris as the front runner, and fellow Democrat Rep. Loretta Sanchez in a close second. This means that we will be able to soon vote for a new candidate for Senate, which is one way to make our opinions heard, so I would encourage everyone to get familiar with the candidates and where they stand different issues.

In addition, California has 53 seats in the United States House of Representatives, and the San Diego area includes Congressional districts ranging from the 49th to the 53rd. District 49 is important to all of us here at UCSD because it spans all the way from Orange County to down the coast and the La Jolla area which, as you might have guessed, includes UCSD. But the district lines are a little confusing because just east of the I-5 is District 52, and Districts 50, 51 and 53 encompass the rest of the county. As for our current House representatives, District 49 has Darrell Issa (R), District 52 has Scott Peters (D), District 50 has another Republican, Duncan Hunter, and the rest of the districts have Democrats, Juan Vargas for 51 and Susan Davis for 53. To find out which is your district, this site is very helpful in figuring it out, just by entering your zip code!

How can you get involved!

As for advocacy, while it is possible to contact your members of Congress though the links they provide on their websites, I found that the best way to try to talk with our representatives is by taking advantage of programs that have already been set up by different organizations to advocate for NIH funding on Capitol Hill. I have done so twice over the past few years. The first time, I applied to participate in the Capitol Hill Day event through the Public Affairs Advisory Committee of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB). This was a great experience because, as it says on their website, “ students and postdocs from around the country come to Washington D.C. to meet with their congressional representatives. Participants partake in a Policy 101 training session before breaking into small groups for a full day of congressional meetings. This event serves to get young researchers involved in science advocacy and also to expose them to how the government works”. I encourage anyone interested in public policy or even those just interested in getting to know what it’s all about, to apply for the next cycle. Their information can be found on their website. For anyone about to graduate or for those who have already received their degree, ASBMB has a Science Policy Fellowship Program, with the fellow serving 12-18 months at their headquarters in Washington D.C.

The other organization through which I also participated in a Capitol Hill day visit was the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET). What I really liked about this experience was that even though there was a member of ASPET with me, it was a one-on-one interaction with members of the Representatives’ respective offices, as opposed to the other visit with ASBMB, which had been as a group of 4-5 scientists from different districts. If you would like to know more about it their information can be found here. These are just a few ways you can become involved in public policy, or even just experience what it’s like to advocate on Capitol Hill and see if it interests you as a potential career path. There are also organizations on the UCSD campus that advocate in Sacramento that you can work with.

Regardless of the organization, everyone I met really emphasized that they need people from every stage in their careers to help advocate for funding in the sciences, especially younger generations such as graduate and even undergraduate students. By telling our individual stories, each of us can show just how much decisions made in Washington D.C. can directly impact the future of not just our current scientific community, but future investigators who help make the United States one of the foremost pioneers and leaders in scientific research and discovery. Hopefully together we can get our message across for the value of funding Biomedical Research.

That’s all for now, I think your PCR is ready.


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