November 27, 2019

 

In summer and fall 2019, scientists met with their members of Congress to discuss the importance of funding for scientific research and education. The meetings were part of a national event organized by the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS).

Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits is an annual event that enables scientists to meet with their elected officials in their local districts rather than in Washington, DC, or in a state capitol. The program allowed lawmakers to learn first-hand about the science happening in their backyard. Scientists discussed the importance of biological research and education with the individuals shaping federal and state science policy.

This was the 11th year that AIBS organized this grassroots advocacy event for the biological sciences community, with the support of Event Sponsors: American Society of Plant Taxonomists, Botanical Society of America, Helminthological Society of Washington, Natural Science Collections Alliance, Organization of Biological Field Stations, Paleontological Society, Society for Freshwater Science, Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections, and Society for the Study of Evolution, and Event Supporter: Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology. More than 220 scientists, including graduate students, senior researchers, and educators, from 28 states registered to participate in the 2019 event.

"This is a needed and important opportunity for scientists to educate lawmakers about the issues important to researchers and science educators," said Dr. Robert Gropp, Executive Director of AIBS. "Meeting personally with policymakers is one of the most effective ways to help them understand what is needed if the United States is to once again be the global leader in science." AIBS provided an online training program to prepare participants for their meetings. This training provided information about how to effectively communicate science during a meeting with a lawmaker and tips for organizing a successful tour of a research facility. AIBS also provided other informational resources and scheduled meetings for the participants.

"When I first heard of the Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits offered by AIBS, I thought it would be a great opportunity to reach out to my representative. AIBS facilitated the connection with the lawmaker's office and also provided me with online training to get the most out of the meeting," said Ms. Coralie Farinas, graduate student at the Ohio State University. "I am grateful for the experience, which has enriched my professional development," added Ms. Farinas. "I am particularly pleased that we started a conversation with Representative Joyce Beatty's office that will continue in the future."

CoralieFarinas Representative Joyce Beatty's (D-OH) staff meets with faculty, students, and staff at the C. Wayne Ellett Plant and Pest Diagnostic Clinic at the Ohio State University.

Dr. Joseph Ross, Associate Professor of Biology at California State University at Fresno, who worked with AIBS to arrange a tour for Representative Jim Costa (D-CA), shared that, "The faculty and students involved in the research facility tours made a strong case for how federal funding has made a lasting impact on our region's students and economy." Dr. Ross added that organizing such an event helped him strengthen relationships with university administrators and with the Congressman's staff. "It was eye-opening to experience firsthand the process of working with a Congressman's staff to develop this type of event, and it was pleasing to see how engaged our federal representatives are and how willing they can be to take the time for this sort of experience."

JosephRoss Representative Jim Costa (D-CA) tours research facilities at the California State University in Fresno, CA.

"I thought the Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits would be a great opportunity to share my research and learn how to influence science policy," said Lisa Zoromski, master's student at the Texas A&M University Kingsville. "Congressman Vela and his staff came for a tour of my research site and were able to see my research in action. I was happy to hear that the Congressman was familiar with the research related to my topic and had thought provoking questions." After this initial visit, the Congressman scheduled additional meetings with Ms. Zoromski's research group and even shared a special message about his visit in his newsletter. "His newsletter about the visit led to private landowners contacting me to learn more about my research, which helped us gain collaborators for additional research," said Ms. Zoromski. "I recommend this opportunity to any graduate student interested in science policy."

LisaZoromski Representative Filemon Vela (D-TX) visits Texas A&M University Kingsville's cattle fever tick research site.

"We were able to share with Representative Veronica Escobar's (D-TX) District Director what natural history collections were and how important federal funding was to museums like us," said Dr. Vicky Zhuang, Biodiversity Collections Manager at the University of Texas, El Paso. "This program was a great first step to building a relationship with our local elected officials and to let them know what resources there are in the area," added Dr. Zhuang.

VickyZhuang Representative Veronica Escobar's (D-TX) District Director learns about biodiversity collections at the University of Texas, El Paso.

Other highlights from the event include:

  • Representative Joseph Morelle (D-NY) visited the University of Rochester and learned about various graduate research projects.
  • Scientists at the Sperry Herbarium at Pittsburgh State University, Kansas organized a tour to showcase their work to Representative Steve Watkins' (R-KS) staff.
  • Scientists at the University of Connecticut gave Senator Chris Murphy's (D-CT) staff a tour of research labs at the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology.
  • Senator Debbie Stabenow's (D-MI) Regional Manager toured the Pierce Cedar Creek Institute in Hastings, MI and learned about environmental education and research.
  • Representative Judy Chu's (D-CA) District Director participated in a tour of the Robert J. Bernard Field Station organized by faculty at the Claremont Colleges in California.
  • Office meetings took place with Representatives Fred Keller (R-PA), Sean Casten (D-IL), Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), and Scott Peters (D-CA) and State Senator Sarah Elfreth (D-MD).
  • Additional meetings took place in Maine, Indiana, North Carolina, Alabama, California, Maryland, and Virginia.

More information about the Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event is available at https://www.aibs.org/public-policy/congressionaldistrictvisits.html

Organizations interested in sponsoring the 2020 event should contact Dr. Robert Gropp at 202-628-1500 x 250.

Scientists can also plan to meet with their lawmakers in Washington, DC during the spring of 2020. Learn more at https://www.aibs.org/public-policy/congressionalvisitsday.html.

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