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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