A Participant’s Perspective on the Congressional Visits

Recently three of us, (Tara Schwetz, a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, Vanderbilt University, Suhrud M. Rajguru, an Assistant Professor at the Departments of Biomedical Engineering and Otolaryngology, University of Miami and Leslie Satin, a Professor at the Department of Pharmacology, University of Michigan) along with the Director of Policy and Communications, Ellen Weiss, visited Washington D.C. as part of the 2012 Science, Engineering, and Technology Congressional Visits Day. On behalf of the Biophysical Society and our members, we visited elected officials in the two-day event that brought around 200 scientists to Washington with a common mission to raise visibility and support for science, engineering, and technology at the federal level.

As a part of the SET Congressional Visits Day, we met with Senator Jim Cooper of Tennessee (photo 1), Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida (photo 2), Ms. Alicia Brown, a legislative aide to Senator Bill Nelson (FL), Ms. Emily Bouck, a legislative correspondent to Senator Marco Rubio (FL), as well as staff members in the offices of Senators Stabenow (MI), Alexander (TN), Corker (TN), Levin (MI) and Congressman Dingell (MI). The exchanges involved discussing the impact of basic science research, especially in biomedicine and biophysics, on the society and the critical role that federal funding plays in it. We conveyed our gratitude to the officials for their past and continued support of federal funding via NIH, NSF and other agencies. We also discussed the serious negative impact a reduction in the funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), etc. would have if “sequestration” or automatic budget cuts are enacted in February 2013. We stressed that if this occurs, there will be disastrous consequences on our efforts to improve human health and on maintaining the United States as a world leader in innovation and new technologies in science and biomedical research.

“As scientists it is important for us to convey to the public what we do and how it benefits the society as a whole. What better way to do it than to bring it to the attention of our elected officials?” said Les following the visit. His research involves the study of beta cells and diabetes. Tara is investigating how G-protein coupled receptor ligands modulate specific pathways in their alteration of insulin and glucagon secretion from the pancreatic islet, in order to more fully understand how signaling is disrupted in diabetes. For her, “As a postdoctoral fellow, it was important to convey the concerns facing younger scientists. I especially wanted to emphasize the significance of supporting the next generation of researchers as they enter the workforce.”

Suhrud concludes, “It was a great opportunity to meet with the representatives and discuss our research, its impact on human health and the need for continued federal support of SET. More efforts like this are needed at local, state and federal levels to share our passion for biomedical research and why we believe it is important now more than ever to continue the investments in SET”. He is studying stimulation of excitable cells using pulsed infrared radiation, the relevant mechanisms and its potential in basic science and future neural prostheses applications.

We sincerely thank the Biophysical Society for this opportunity and Ellen Weiss for organizing the visit.

–Suhrud Rajguru, Assistant Professor
Departments of Biomedical Engineering and Otolaryngology
University of Miami

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