Friday, September 2, 2011

The End of the Road

When New Voices for Research began back in 2008, the idea was to create an online community for early career researchers and science enthusiasts who were interested in becoming advocates for scientific research. We wanted to empower people to communicate effectively about science, to engage the public and policymakers in their passion. Thanks to all of you, it’s been a great run. I want to thank everyone who has participated in New Voices over the years. This includes the many bloggers who have made this a rich and rewarding resource. I also want to express gratitude to all of the scientists, policy experts and advocates we profiled on these pages. Finally, I want to thank our readers! Your comments and insights made this experience exciting and showed us that people who care about science are interested in becoming better advocates.

Research!America has decided that while New Voices has developed into a wonderful community, it’s time to consolidate our advocacy efforts. You’ll still be able to find our archived blog posts right here, but I would like to direct all of you to the Research!America blog and Facebook page where you can stay up to date on all of our latest advocacy and outreach programs. You should also sign up for our advocacy network where we keep people informed about the latest news in science and research policy and provide them with tools they need to get involved.

If you have any questions, please contact Max Bronstein, Manager of Science Policy at Research!America (

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Pen is as Mighty as the Pipette

Although it seems like only yesterday that I was starting my internship here at Research!America, it’s actually been almost three months! I guess time flies when you are having fun and learning a lot. I was looking through the archives to see what past interns said in their farewell posts and I realized that I’m in a unique situation. This week, the New Voices blog is signing off for the last time. So as I reflect on my experiences, I’m also closing a chapter for this great community.

I’ve been working in research labs for a long time now and I figured that coming to Research!America as a science policy intern would be a pretty big adjustment. There are the obvious differences, working at a desk instead of a bench, being told you have to leave at a certain time and wearing clothes that don’t double as pajamas. But what really struck me were the similarities. It turns out advocacy is a lot like lab work. Allow me to explain.

First, you ask a question. How can we protect the research enterprise in the U.S.? You read the available literature, learn about the budget and legislative processes and gain an understanding of how research support has been secured in the past. You look at what has worked and what has failed and you form a hypothesis. You guess at what you think will be successful based on what you know.

So you’ve made a guess at the answer to your question- how do you test it? Any scientist can tell you that you design an experiment, in this case a new approach to advocacy, a way to protect the research enterprise. Maybe you think the answer is a fact sheet or an op-ed. Maybe it’s training scientists to be better advocates for research or meeting with members of congress to convince them to maintain robust, continuous support of scientific endeavors.

Whatever your proposed solution, just like in lab work, implementation is the hardest part. That’s where having the opportunity to work at Research!America has been so great. People here really care about research and they’ve spent many years proposing new advocacy approaches and implementing them. It’s a grind, with lots of ups and downs-does this sound familiar to any of you?

This brings me to the most important similarity between scientific research and advocacy. Both require a lot of dedicated people working towards a goal. Big breakthroughs don’t happen all of a sudden, they happen through incremental advances made by many individuals and organizations. This is why each of you in the New Voices community is so important to this process. Even though our blog is ending, I hope that you will continue to work with Research!America to make sure that research remains a top national priority.

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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Research!America and Me

Two months ago, I began a great, new adventure into the world of science policy and advocacy at Research!America. As I had come from the medical research scene at the National Institutes of Health, I figured I would be in for quite a change, and I was pleasantly surprised.

Right away, there were meetings with political figures like Representative DeLauro and the Surgeon General, discussions of currently controversial topics like stem cell research and the federal budget, and advocacy work that ranged from creating state fact sheets to expanding our grassroots advocate network. In contrast to culturing cells, pipetting solutions, reading science articles and communicating results with other scientists, science policy is much more political and far less technical. How have I coped with such changes?

I quickly found that certain skills I acquired in the lab did come in handy. Personal communication is most important. In research, I communicated with my lab mates and other collaborating researchers in person or by e-mail all of the time. In policy, I had to communicate with my co-workers and our advocates in the same formats, but the language used was very different. Science is filled with technical jargon that can quickly confuse a non-scientist, so I had to search for more appropriate ways to get my points across. Instead of saying something like “genetic manipulation,” I might say “making changes to DNA.” It was tricky at first, but I learned that it makes discussions with those not having a science background so much easier.

Another useful skill is writing. Again, much of my writing in research was geared towards a scientific audience. Writing for research advocacy involves reducing science into its practical meaning for the given audience. If I were speaking to scientists, I would discuss my research data very technically, but if I were speaking to economists, for instance, I might focus on how finding new drugs can help companies generate profits and create more jobs. At Research!America, we write advocacy messages of many forms to show politicians and the public how federally funded medical research is important for creating new drugs, surgical devices and procedures and jumpstarting the nation’s economy.

Last of all, I want to mention that negotiation is undeniably important. In life, people negotiate all the time whether it’s where to go for lunch or how much to pay for something. In politics, everything is negotiating, but not everyone is skilled at it. In research, I might have negotiated whether I should or shouldn’t do certain experiments. In advocacy, I am always negotiating for support whether it is from people in the office or new advocates in Congress and the public. Getting others to donate time for a good cause is not as easy as I once thought. It takes some careful negotiating by telling people what they could gain with their efforts. In this case, more research support from the federal government is the prize.

Overall, I have had a tremendous experience at Research!America. The people I’ve met are very helpful and wonderful at what they do, and the personal skills I’ve developed will be very useful in the future. I would like to offer my deepest thanks to our Science Policy and Advocacy team of Mary Woolley, Ellie Dehoney, Max Bronstein, Bill Leinweber, Vidusha Devasthali, Michelle Hernandez and our former colleague, Heather Benson as well as everyone else within Research!America. Without all of you, this experience would not have been as great!

The New Voices blog will be ending this week. The blog archive will continue to be available online, but we will not be adding new content. Thank you all for your interest and support over the years. On Friday, we’ll be posting information on how to remain engaged with Research!America and our advocacy efforts.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tuneage Tuesday

All you Harry Potter fans out there might enjoy watching actor Daniel Radcliffe sing Tom Lehrer's "The Elements". Even cool guys dig science!

Test your celebrity trivia. What famous people do you know who have secret scientific lives?

Today I have a sad announcement. The New Voices blog will be ending this week. The blog archive will continue to be available online, but we will not be adding new content. Thank you all for your interest and support over the years. On Friday, we’ll be posting information on how to remain engaged with Research!America and our advocacy efforts.

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Monday, August 29, 2011

HIV/AIDS Part 3: Philanthropy

Photo Credit:

To mark the 30th anniversary of the first AIDS diagnoses, we’ve been discussing the different groups that came together to improve our understanding of HIV/AIDS and develop new treatments for combating the disease. I’ve written about scientists and advocates in my previous posts for this series, but we’re not done yet! Research needs money and philanthropists were the first to step up to do their part in the fight against AIDS.

Today, the federal government spends over $15 billion every year on HIV/AIDS programs and research. However when AIDS first emerged, the government was not quick to respond. Early donors did not even include foundations, but rather individuals who were personally invested in the epidemic. This probably had a lot to do with the stigma associated with a disease that primarily affected the gay community and intravenous drug users.

Those first donors were really important, because together with advocates, they were able to put a face on the disease. Foundations took notice and realized that HIV/AIDS was a major public health challenge that the federal government was not addressing. In 1986 the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation announced that a significant portion of its annual budget would go towards HIV/AIDS programs and research. They were quickly followed by the Ford Foundation which helped to create the National AIDS Fund (NAF, now AIDS United). New foundations were also created specifically for HIV/AIDS research, like the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR).

Apart from funding research on HIV/AIDS, philanthropists were able to help shift public perception of the disease. They could use their name recognition to funnel funds into community-based programs that would otherwise have been invisible. The resulting public support led to political pressure, which led (finally!) to government investment.

You might think that once big federal dollars are part of the equation, we wouldn’t need HIV/AIDS philanthropy anymore. Actually foundations still play an important role in dealing with this disease, especially in the global health arena. Along with the early champions, newer organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are spending significant resources on fighting the global AIDS epidemic.

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Friday, August 26, 2011

August 26, 2011 Round-Up

Sometimes, it pays to date a Neanderthal.
(Photo Credit: Willnow/Getty)

Aye maties! On to science camp!
(Photo Credit: Donna Kiernan)

Research!America advocates for medical research, and we encourage everyone to get involved. See what you can do: Research!America advocacy
Hello Irene! Hurricane Irene hits the east coast this weekend and New Voices wants you to stay safe by following the weather.
On this day on New Voices:
2010 - New Voices takes a comic break.
2009 - New Voices salutes the late Edward Kennedy, a champion for health and research.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Diabetes research – How sweet it is!

Diabetes is a disease where people have higher than normal blood glucose. Glucose is a sugar that our cells typically use to make energy. The two forms of diabetes are Type 1 and Type 2. In Type 1 diabetes, a person’s body cannot produce the insulin to get glucose into cells. This starves the cells. The prolonged absence of insulin can cause serious health complications, and if insulin is not administered on a timely basis, death. As of now, Type 1 is incurable, but treatable with insulin. With Type 2 diabetes, a person’s cells become resistant to insulin, so although insulin is present, cells cannot respond to it to take in glucose. If Type 2 diabetes is not controlled, patients are at greater risk of heart disease, blindness, infection and death. Diet, exercise and drugs can control this form of diabetes.

One reason diabetes is an important issue in science policy right now is the growing prevalence of obesity in the U.S. and other developed countries. One of the major issues with obesity is that it is highly associated with developing Type 2 diabetes. In fact, one third of adults in the U.S. are obese and 44% of U.S. adults are estimated to have diabetes. Because many cases of Type 2 diabetes can be alleviated with diet and exercise, researchers are looking carefully at these behavioral measures. However, since Type 1 diabetes still has no cure and some forms of Type 2 may have genetic causes, preventive measures will not be the answer for everyone.

Although prevention may be the best medicine, medical research has allowed us to understand and treat diabetes through the years. In 1675, Dr. Thomas Willis found that urine from diabetics had a sugary taste….gross! The first treatment for Type 1 diabetes came in 1921 when scientists discovered animal-derived insulin could be used to treat patients with the disease.

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes were distinguished in 1936, and in the 1940’s and 50’s, sulfonylureas were developed as the first Type 2 diabetes drugs. Another breakthrough came when human insulin produced and isolated from cells was developed by Genentech in 1978. The popular Type 2 diabetes drug, metformin, was later approved in 1995. In 2007, the first clinical stem cell therapy for Type 1 diabetes showed promise in replacing insulin producing cells. You can see that there has been much progress in diabetes over the centuries and it would be a mistake to slow down now. Further research can open new avenues for diabetes treatments and cures, but that depends in part on whether policy-makers continue to provide sufficient funding to federal health agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

What can you do to make sure our nation continues to invest in life-saving research?

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

How To: Connect with Science and Research Advocates in Your Neighborhood

There are plenty of resources out there to help you get connected with other people who care about health and research, if you’re willing to do a little looking. I suggest you start with the following:

1. Research!America partners: See especially the list of Academic Institutions/ Hospitals/Independent Research Institutes, and the list of State and Local Organizations.
2. New Voices members: New Voices is a community. We hope that you can take advantage of the member profiles to get connected with those who share your interests.
3. Science and health journalists/newscasters: Media personnel who work in science and health can be great people to reach out to. They’re looking for good stories, and they’re often frustrated that others aren’t enthusiastic enough about science and research.
4. Researchers in your community: often, the best advocates are other researchers.
5. Science Cafés and other science-related events: To check out a science café near you, visit this site. These types of events are a good way to meet lay-people who have a genuine interest in science. It’s also a great way to meet researchers who enjoy public interactions and advocacy.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

East Coast Quake

In light of the tremors felt in DC and other areas of the eastern United States today, New Voices thought some safety tips might be useful. Here they are: earthquake safety

Source: JMckinley's posterous

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Meet Dr. Patrick Clemins

New Voices recently interviewed Dr. Patrick Clemins. An electrical and computer engineer by training, Dr. Clemins has spent the last several years of his career in science policy between the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Through AAAS, he began a prestigious Science&Technology Policy Fellowship with the NSF. At the NSF, he worked within the Department of Biological Infrastructure to help build connections between computing and biology programs. In his current position as Director of Budget and Policy programs for AAAS, he has become an expert in the U.S. federal budget, innovation policy, and international research and development trends. Dr. Clemins received his bachelor’s, master’s and PhD degrees in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Marquette University. He also was employed in systems engineering at a Wisconsin company.

How did you first become interested in science policy?
There were few science policy programs before 2005 so I had no prior exposure. I saw it as an adventure. Science policy was a way for me to use my PhD more creatively as I had been doing primarily technical work before. Even though I enjoyed my prior job in engineering, I came to the NSF to gain experience in policy, which led to my current position at AAAS.

What was it like to transition from engineering to science policy?
Since my last position was very technical, I would say the skill sets used were different. Communicating science in simpler terms and relationship building are important skills in science policy. The orientations at NSF and AAAS allowed me to understand the work culture, DC politics and the historical context for many of the policy discussions.

What types of policy activities have you monitored to help early career researchers?
I have met many people who come into policy frustrated by the current system to get a tenure track position. The average age for a researcher to obtain their first NIH investigator award is 42. Some work at federal science agencies has centered on changing the peer-review process or creating targeted programs to make it easier for young investigators to receive funding. There has also been a focus on transformative research projects that are less conservative and potentially more exciting and rewarding.

What advice would you give to someone who is interested in science policy?
If you are a student, I would suggest joining a science policy group on campus (or forming one) and inviting speakers to get informed about policy issues. At some point, you should come to DC because it is the center of policy. Programs like the AAAS fellowship, Congressional fellowships and internships at science policy offices offer a way to learn about and enter the field. I also recommend participating in panels at federal R&D agencies as they help build communication and relationship building skills.

What is your outlook for the future of the research budget?
It’s tough times. There will be no immediate drop in funding, but I believe standard inflationary increases may be the only additional money for awhile. The “Super Committee” needs to agree on $1.2 trillion in spending cuts, or else across the board cuts will take place in 2013. That would really hurt research budgets. Overall, the outlook is not rosy. We must argue that research provides a long term investment for our country and its economy. Most representatives are supportive of research and development, but applied research is under the most scrutiny right now because they feel private industry should be more involved in that aspect. It is mostly understood that basic research needs a greater federal investment. The main question representatives are asking now is how much of the R&D pipeline should be funded by the government?

What is your proudest policy or program-related achievement?
More generally, I feel the personal relationships I’ve established are my proudest achievement. This has been through building trust with the people I work and collaborate with. I have also been able to foster a reputation for research and development in policy, which is very important to the future of science in the US.

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