Rallying for Medical Research so that Young Scientists Can Have Research Careers

Rally med research 2017

The Rally for Medical Research is a truly inspiring event that was established in 2013. Held every September, this event organized on Capitol Hill continues to grow, bringing together national organizations and people in support of Medical Research. The purpose of the rally is to call on the nation’s policy makers to make research funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) a national priority and raise awareness about the importance of research funding.

This year, I had the opportunity to attend the Rally and share my own story with top IL policy makers on behalf of the Biophysical Society. The Rally brought together medical doctors, scientists, patients, and organizations to lobby for robust, sustained, and predictable funding for the NIH by increasing the current budget by 2 billion dollars for fiscal year 2018 and to ask Congress to increase the budget caps on non-defense discretionary spending that were imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011.

I went to the rally as a former research scientist in order to speak out for the early career scientist that are and will be affected by sequestration. I, myself, was a scientist affected by this – having studied and worked in multiple labs that struggled to maintain their funding. As a result, I had to make a difficult decision for myself: to continue on in a field that does not seem to value me or to move on to something that will. I chose the latter. While meeting with the Senate and Congress Houses for my state, I was able to relay to key policy makers how sequestration and cutting the NIH budget affect scientists, like myself, and how many of us have already responded: scientists may leave, many of us already have; whether that be moving to the private sector moving to countries that have sustained funding.  This also dissuades students from ever entering the field.

Through this experience, myself, a former medical research scientist, I’ve learned a lot, not only about lobbying but also about how politics in general works, and how as a constituent we can instill change. So last week, with my own personal story of the struggles of being a scientists in today’s market, I was able to convey my story along with the story of others (many of us from IL met with policy makers at the offices of congressman to the Senate Offices) with the hopes of reframing how these politicians see current policies involving medical research and helping to convert that idea into the language of government policy.  I hope I was able to make a difference and hopefully give a face to the affected scientist.

 

–Vidhya Sivakumaran, BPS member

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Reasons You Should Meet with Your Congressional Representatives this August

congressional district mapAccording to a Pew Research Center Poll, 76% percent of Americans think that scientists act in the best interest of the public, and 67% think science has had a mostly positive effect on society.  In addition, despite recent headlines, the study shows that confidence in the scientific community has remained steady for the past 40 years.

At the same time, 70% of Americans can’t name a living scientist based on a 2013 poll conducted by Research!America.

In Congress, there is currently only one PhD level scientist, Bill Foster, a physicist representing Illinois i the House. There is one mathematician, Jerry McNerney from California, a handful of medical doctors, and a few political scientists.

Congress has several science-related policy issues on its plate including funding for science agencies, regulations and policies related to climate change, and support for renewable energy programs to name a few.

So what does this mean for you,, a practicing scientist?  It means that Congress needs to hear from you!

In particular, the Senators from your state and the Representative from your district need to hear from you. They need to know that you, a constituent, cares about these issues, that you,  your students, and your colleagues are affected by the policy choices they make in Washington, and that these choices can also affect the local economy.

They need to know that someone is watching and that someone cares.

The Biophysical Society wants to make it easy for you to connect with your elected officials.  This August, society staff will walk you through the process of setting up a meeting and preparing for that meeting.

All you have to do is sign up for the BPS Congressional District Visits program by July 26 and a BPS staff member will be in touch. You won’t have to travel far, and you can make a big difference.

Get out of the lab and be an advocate for biophysics!

 

 

 

 

Advocating for Science on Capitol Hill: a Scientist’s Perspective

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Author Christy Gaines (R) with a staff member from the Office of Senator Richard Burr (NC)

On April 26th, I had the privilege to attend STEM on the Hill Day with BPS. I had attended the March for Science the previous weekend, and I was ready to continue to advocate for science funding by speaking directly to the offices of my representatives. I had concerns about my ability to appeal to some offices, as I had commiserated with others at the march about how some elected officials viewed evidence-based policymaking with skepticism. With this in mind, I tailored my message to the offices I visited.

I went to my first appointment, expecting resistance from the staffer of my senator. I had prepared reasons why basic science funding economically helped my state, as well as a few appeals to national security, but expected to leave the meeting demoralized. I got my first, and largest, surprise of the morning: the staffer agreed with me and promised to commit to funding basic science as part of the upcoming omnibus spending bill. In this age political divisiveness, I had not expected it to be as easy as asking for funding. While we talked about a few of my points, we spent most of our meeting sharing our stories, as the Biophysical Society group spoke more about their individual concerns and how science funding affects us personally.

I assumed this meeting was a fluke, as one data point is not an adequate sample size. However, when I went to the next appointment, I was met with similar enthusiasm and attentiveness. As my sample size grew, I learned that this was the norm rather than the exception. I had few interactions that left me disheartened, as almost everyone I spoke to had broad support for basic science. I think due to the politicization of some aspects of science, we tend to think that all areas will become the same. We believe that denying climate research will automatically lead to slashing the NIH budget. However, I think we can use the broad support of biomedical research to validate other areas of science. Everyone I met believed that cancer, Alzheimer’s, and other diseases are worth federal investment. That same belief that people deserve medical care could be used to protect them from Zika virus, pollution, and other climate-change related ailments. What I realized from meeting with the staffers of my congressmen and senators is that our representatives have to do the best they can with the resources they are given. They are constantly bombarded with requests from people with different priorities, and they must choose which ones are funded. It’s easier for elected officials to relate to the patients of cancer and other illnesses, as they have probably encountered similar issues in their own personal life. However, I got the impression that their interactions with scientists are less frequent. To the majority, what we do is an abstract concept, and the best way to advocate for science is to show them how their funding decisions directly affect our careers, and how our research affects others.

I am a young scientist, and my experience with funding only extends to the last decade. However, I remember when sequestration happened, and how it limited my cohort’s ability to choose labs when we started graduate school. I remember when budgets were slashed for universities, and my school opted to pass some of the costs to the undergrads because they couldn’t absorb all of it by changing the teaching labs. By going to my elected officials, I was able to share these stories and humanize the scientists doing this work. They got to meet someone whose graduate education has been fully funded by the NIH. They got to meet a young scientist that will rely on funding in order to get their next job. Importantly, I didn’t go alone, and others in my group could remind them of how mid- and late-career scientists rely on funding as well.

Overall I felt it was a great experience, and I hope to go again. At the very least, it opened up dialogue between my representatives’ offices and me, making it much easier for me to send an email in the future. It also allowed me to view my representatives as people, instead of political enemies or allies. When I write in the future, I am going to believe that they want to help me (and their other constituents) and that I need to give them a reason to prioritize my needs over other spending projects. While it’s easy to give in to skepticism and pessimism, I encourage others to communicate with their representatives. It might be easier than you think.

–Christy Gaines

UMBC Graduate Student

Meet a Biophysicist Marching for Science

As an official partner of the March for Science, the Biophysical Society encourages members to participate in the event, in person or virtually, and speak up for science. Prior to taking to the streets on Saturday, April 22, in over 525 cities worldwide, meet a BPS member planning to March:  Connie Jeffery.  Connie is an
associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  Her lab works on protein structure and function using biochemistry, biophysics, and bioinformatics methods.  The lab has projects in basic science and also focused on diseases – cancer, tuberculosis, and inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis).  She will be marching in Chicago, Illinois on April 22.

 

Dr. Constance Jeffery poses in front of a ribosome sculpture at a Cold Spring Harbor meeting.

 

Why did you sign up to march?

I’m concerned about the huge cuts in the proposed federal budget for NIH, NSF, and other parts of the government that fund scientific research.  I am also concerned about potential cuts to agencies that protect the public like the EPA and the FDA.  I am also concerned about so much “pseudoscience” that is misinforming the public, especially things like incorrect information about what to eat or not to eat, quack cures, anti-GMO activists, and anti-vaccination drives that can harm people.  On the more positive side, I would like to share information about the importance of science and what scientists do.

What do you hope to get out of the day personally?

I’d like to share my love of science and encourage young people to consider a job in science, help inform the public about the importance of science and what scientists do, and also learn from others interested in science, including other scientists, but also environmentalists and people with family members who are suffering from diseases that can be potentially cured in the near future (as long as funding is not cut).

What do you hope it will accomplish?

I hope we can better inform the public and our representatives at the local, state and federal level about the importance of science and that there are many American voters who care about science.  There have been such amazing breakthroughs in the past 15 years that we have the potential to find better treatments and ease a lot of suffering soon, but the opportunity will be missed and many people will continue to suffer needlessly if funding is cut.

What will your sign say?

I’m planning to make multiple signs, and to have messages on both sides – things like “Prevent suffering in children:  Fund Research on Childhood Arthritis”, “Fund Cancer Research”, “Fund Autism Research” and from growing up in Cleveland “Before the EPA the Cuyahoga River was so polluted it BURNED {picture of one of the fires}.  Not just once – THE RIVER BURNED MULTIPLE TIMES. Today with the EPA: {and then a picture of how clean and beautiful it looks today}”, “Vaccinations Save Lives”, etc.

Thanks to Connie and everyone else planning to celebrate science at the March!

Post-Election: BPS President’s Message

Dear Biophysical Society Members,

sfscarlataNo matter what side of the aisle we are on or what part of the world we live in, the recent US election and the campaigns leading up to it have left us with a feeling of divisiveness and unease. This is only the latest world event to bring to the forefront fissures that exist among people.  It has made many want to shut themselves off from the world around them.  As scientists and as citizens, we cannot do that.

The amazing strength of biophysics is its inherent diversity, and it is this diversity that has impacted fields far beyond biophysics.  Now more than ever, we as biophysicists need to work together to demonstrate through our actions, our work, and our outreach, the power of inclusivity, diversity, civil discourse, and collaboration.  The Biophysical Society has always been an international, global organization, representing incredible breadth and diversity of scientific areas, as well as diversity in every demographic aspect possible. I cannot stress enough that the Society has always been committed to inclusivity, respect of others and selves, and collaboration among disparate groups.  This will never, never, never change. We appreciate our members as scientists and human beings, and we appreciate what every member brings to the Society.

And now more than ever we as biophysicists need to engage in civil discourse to show how working together creates a better future for all.  We need to reach out to non-scientists and speak to them as fellow citizens in understandable terms so that they can appreciate the implications of the science policy decisions they make through their votes.  We need to work at the grassroots level within our own communities to make everyone understand that scientific research leads to better jobs, to a better environment, to healthier lives, to more prosperity.

This is not the time to isolate ourselves from one another, but quite the opposite.  It is a time to work together to use what we know best to help educate those around the world about the hope that science research brings to all. It is a time to come together and continue our tradition of respect and inclusivity.

Suzanne Scarlata
Biophysical Society President

Be a Voice for Science in Washington, Apply to be the Next BPS Congressional Fellow

 

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Randy Wadkins, BPS’s 2016-17 Congressional Fellow, in the Halls of Congress.

With the election two weeks away in the United States, it is almost impossible to miss talk of politics.  Even if it is missing from the public discussion at the moment, what these politicians are tasked with doing when they are in office is set policy.  While the public and the mainstream media aren’t focused on science policy, it is something that elected leaders have to consider.  So, where will these elected Senators and House members, most who don’t have a science background, get their information?

From their staff.

And the Biophysical Society want to make sure that scientists are among those staff members.

 The Society is currently accepting applications for the 2017-2018 BPS Congressional fellowship.  The individual selected for the Fellowship will spend a year working in a Capitol Hill office advising the senator or congressman for whom they are working on science-related issues.

The BPS fellow will be one of 30+ AAAS Congressional Science and Technology Policy Fellows.  The AAAS Fellowship program has been bringing scientists to Washington DC to work both on Capitol Hill and in federal agencies for 43 years.  The purpose of the program is two-fold:  1) provide scientific expertise to policymakers and 2) have scientists understand the policy making process.

Worried you wouldn’t have a clue what to do in a congressional office? The AAAS has that covered. The program kicks off each September with two weeks of intense training on how the government operates, who the players are, and what your roll will be.  The program also guides you through the process of finding a placement for your fellowship.  The training continues throughout the year.  In addition, each cohort of fellows usually form a pretty tight bond.

This is a very unique opportunity, open to BPS members that hold a terminal degree (PhD, MD). Fellows could have just graduated, or have 20 years in the lab under their belt.  Individuals that have completed the AAAS fellowship have found the experience to be professionally rewarding—whether they have chosen to return to bench science or use their science knowledge in other fields.

Have we peaked your interest?  Learn more about the BPS fellowship and the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellows.  Applications are due December 15!

 

Where do the Candidates Stand on Science?

White-House-SD-Qs-Banner.jpg2016. An Election year in the United States. It’s nearly impossible to turn on the television, pull up news on the computer, or scan your social media accounts without seeing some sort of political news. Often the coverage is about the horse race aspect of the election— polling numbers, for example—or the candidates’ whereabouts on the campaign trail.  Occasionally the coverage is policy based.  Rarely, though does this include a candidate’s views on scientific issues.

Earlier this month ScienceDebate.org released 20 science questions to which it would like the Presidential candidates to respond.  The Biophysical Society assisted in the creation and vetting of the questions and endorsed the final list.  Along with other leading science organizations, the Society would very much like to hear where Clinton, Trump, and the third party candidates stand on these important questions that touch on vaccines, climate change, jobs, and research.  The questions received attention from the press, but the candidates have yet to respond.  We hope that they will in the coming weeks.  We also hope to see some of these questions posed in the national debates.

Here are the questions.

ScienceDebate.org was originally started in late 2007 to garner support for science issues to be included in Presidential debates prior to the 2008 election. Candidates Obama and McCain did go on record with responses to the questions then; here’s hoping Clinton and Trump let us know where they stand!