Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Wait, where's the microscope?

Upon arriving at my workspace my first day here at Research!America, my first thought was, something's missing. It had been four years since my job hadn't required any kind of scientific equipment, and it seemed obviously lacking at my new desk.

Five weeks into my first ever policy job, I’ve learned a few things:
1. Despite the lack of a microscope, I can get a lot done here.
2. I should never drink the instant coffee in the break room except in dire need.
3. And, most importantly, I can reach an audience, keep them engaged, and deliver a message so they actually hear and understand it (maybe even use it in the future).

Working as a science policy intern for Research!America has certainly been an eye-opening experience. Spending the last four years in school and at the lab bench has prepared me for a job in the policy world more than I would have previously believed.

The thought process needed to solve the problems presented to us at Research!America can often be better understood through the lens of a scientific mind. Especially when considering one of the main groups that we try to reach here, especially in New Voices, is that of the men and women doing research today. What better way to connect with your audience than having been one of them, and having that in common to discuss and bond over.

One of my more interesting experiences so far was a chance to view a Capitol Hill hearing in which the director of the NIH, Dr. Francis Collins, testified before the Subcommittee on Health in the Energy and Commerce Committee. Dr. Collins explained the importance of the NIH budget and fielded questions from members of Congress on a huge array of issues.

Watching Dr. Collins, I felt intense gratitude that there was someone so qualified to speak to Congress that day on the importance of science research in this country’s future. But what about the other days? Who contacts Congress on the other hundreds of days a year to advocate for science research?

The answer is, not nearly enough people. While Research!America strives to show members of Congress the importance of basic research, it needs to come from the constituents and the scientists themselves to get the most reaction from the members.

The best part about that? Scientists ARE constituents.

If scientists can take time out of their admittedly busy schedule to visit a congressional office, write a letter, send an e-mail, or even offer their expertise on an issue that the member might be dealing with, the change could be dramatic and hugely powerful. So when is the last time you contacted your representative or senator? Let them know today that you think science research funding is important for our country’s future.

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