October 31, 2016

 

Science took center stage in recent interactions between researchers and policymakers. Across the nation, dozens of biological scientists and educators met with their lawmakers as part of the Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event, an initiative organized by the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS).

This nationwide event facilitates meetings between scientists and their elected officials in their local area rather than in Washington, DC or a state capital, and allows lawmakers to learn first-hand about the science and research facilities in their district.

"In spite of heated political debates at many levels of government, science needs to remain a bipartisan issue," said Dr. Robert Gropp, Interim Co-Executive Director of AIBS. "It's more important than ever for scientists to engage with policymakers to help them better appreciate the many ways that research contributes to society. Often, lawmakers don't have routine contact with scientists, if you aren't talking to a group it is hard to know what they do and what they need."

Scientists participating in the event discussed the importance of life sciences research with the individuals responsible for casting the votes that shape the nation's science policy. Participants ranged from graduate students to senior researchers.

"Participating in the Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event was an invaluable experience to have as a graduate student. The training provided by AIBS made me feel confident and ready to go have a conversation with Representative Reed's District Director about federal funding, especially how it's benefitted me during my Ph.D.," said Erin Larson, a Ph.D. candidate at Cornell University and a member of the Society for Freshwater Science. "I was struck during our meeting by how meaningful it is to 'show up' and participate in the political process, especially as it relates to federal funding for the biological sciences. We scientists take the importance of federal funding to do our research to be a given, but it's important for us to be able to communicate that effectively, especially with policymakers, to ensure that federal funding is maintained in the future."

"The Natural History Museum of Utah hosted Congressman Chris Stewart's District Director and other members of his Utah staff in August. This was a wonderful opportunity to get to know the Congressman's great staff, to spend time together in the Museum's collections areas, as well as in the exhibits and other public areas of the Museum--and to talk about how to connect with the Congressman and his staff in the future," said Ann Hanniball, Associate Director for Community Relations at the Natural History Museum of Utah, which is a member of the Natural Science Collections Alliance, Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections, and AIBS.

"It was really nice to be provided the opportunity to meet our local Assembly Member and to have him tour our facilities," said Wallace Meyer, director of the Robert J. Bernard Field Station at Claremont Colleges in California. The field station is a member of the Organization of Biological Field Stations. "Not only was I able to communicate all the amazing things that happen at our field station, we were able to discuss how important such facilities are for all the people in our district. In the end, I feel as though our field station made a friend and one who is both knowledgeable and engaged in local environmental issues."

The 8th annual Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits were made possible by AIBS, with support from event sponsors Botanical Society of America, Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology, Natural Science Collections Alliance, Organization of Biological Field Stations, Paleontological Society, Society for Freshwater Science, and Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections.

Participants in the event were prepared for their meetings during an interactive training webinar. The program provided information about how best to communicate science to non-technical audiences and tips for conducting a successful meeting with an elected official.

Highlights of the event include:

  • U.S. Representative Beto O'Rourke (D-TX) will tour the University of Texas at El Paso Biodiversity Collections;
  • Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-NY) will visit Stony Brook University in November to discuss neuroscience research with graduate students;
  • Illinois researchers met with Representative Rodney Davis (R-IL) about science education;
  • California Assemblymember Chris Holden (D) toured the Robert J. Bernard Field Station of Claremont College and the Robert Redford Conservancy of Pitzer College;
  • Virginia Senator Mark Obenshain (R) visited James Madison University's Bioscience Building;
  • A graduate student from the University of Georgia met with state Representative Chuck Williams (R-GA) about science education;
  • Black Rock Forest Consortium hosted a tour for staff of Representative Sean Maloney (D-NY);
  • Staff for Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) met with faculty at the School of Pharmacy at Regis University;
  • Senator Sherrod Brown's (D-OH) district director spoke with a faculty member from the University of Cincinnati about training future scientists;
  • Staff for Representative Chris Steward (R-UT) toured the Natural History Museum of Utah;
  • Senator John Barrasso's (R-WY) staff will tour the Rocky Mountain Herbarium at the University of Wyoming; and
  • Researchers also met with staff for Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Representatives Barbara Comstock (R-VA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Tom Reed (R-NY), and Reid Ribble (R-WI).

More information about the Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event is available at www.aibs.org/public-policy/congressionaldistrictvisits.html. Resources are also available for scientists who are interested in meeting with policymakers at www.aibs.org/public-policy/congressionaldistrictvisits_resources.html.

Organizations interested in sponsoring the 2017 event should contact the AIBS Public Policy Office.

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