Advocating for Neuroscience Research
With Congress making critical decisions that will affect research for years to come, SfN members are to standing up for neuroscience funding in the United States. On March 20, members from across the United States will descend on Capitol Hill to urge legislators to support NIH- and NSF-funded research during Capitol Hill Day. Capitol Hill Day 2013 comes at a critical time when the Congressional budget process for fiscal year 2014 is underway and major sequestration could be implemented.
Capitol Hill Day activities aren’t limited to those who will be in Washington, DC. SfN members are encouraged to take action during the week of March 18 by utilizing social media, making phone calls, and sending letters to communicate with Congress. Additionally, for added impact, the SfN Policy and Advocacy Department can help members set up a local meeting or lab tour. You can also find more details on what you can do in the Advocacy section of SfN.org.
“Ultimately, the policymakers decide how much the federal government is going to invest in scientific research,” said Anne Young, chair of the SfN Government Affairs Committee. “During these challenging times, we need to make it a part of our job to communicate with policymakers about the important research that's taking place. It's more important than ever for scientists to know how to talk to non-scientific audiences. There are a lot of great stories to tell about the work we're doing, and policymakers need to hear from us."
During Hill Day, SfN members will meet with policymakers to discuss the latest breakthroughs in neuroscience and how those developments lay the groundwork to advance science, improve health, and strengthen the economy. For the last seven years, SfN members from across the country have come together in Washington, DC, to meet with lawmakers and impart the importance of continued funding for scientific research. Last year more than 50 members participated, with similar strong turnout expected this year.
Additionally, SfN encourages younger members, especially those active in SfN chapters, to get involved in advocacy through a new initiative focused on young advocates. The program enables a limited number of early-career researchers to receive advocacy training and participate in Capitol Hill Day. Following their trip to Washington, program participants will be encouraged to use the skills they learned by scheduling lab tours or in-district meetings with their legislators and by carrying the advocacy message back to their chapters.
SfN Members Discuss Hill Day Experiences
Richard Dorsky, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Utah, said that until he participated in Hill Day he didn’t appreciate how much impact a face-to-face meeting could have. “If you can either go to Capitol Hill or a local office to meet with a congressman or their staff — that voice is so much more powerful than anything you can do by contributing money to campaigns or writing letters,” Dorsky said. “They listen to their constituents and if you get a chance to make an argument face-to-face, that’s big.”
“Generally, the people we talked to were receptive to the idea that NIH funding is important for helping disease, but they think that things can be handled by private industry and they don’t understand that all the people who work in biotech get trained with NIH money, and that there would be no one to work in biotech without NIH funding,” Dorsky said. “Without that foundation of knowledge, biotech companies won’t invest in it. The idea that not just [academic] jobs, but instead the whole field is dependent on NIH funding is something I don’t think they had thought of.”
Cary Savage, director for the Center for Health Behavior at the University of Kansas and a former Hill Day participant, said that, for him, the experience served to bridge the gap in knowledge he thinks often exists between individual researchers and the people who control the budgets in Washington.
“The world of Washington, DC, politics always seemed very separate. Meetings gave me an inside view of how things work and made me feel more connected to my senators and representatives,” Savage said. Like Dorsky, some of what Savage found was unanticipated. Savage had expected to have to take a more adversarial approach in his conversations with lawmakers, but instead he found them approachable and interested.
“I think what really struck me was the level of support and interest for biomedical research,” Savage said. “Now I have more of a sense of policymakers as allies who are really trying to work with us to find ways to support biomedical research in a pretty difficult environment.”
Taking the Hill Home
Forging connections can go well beyond one meeting. After Richard Dorsky attended Capitol Hill Day, Utah representative Jim Matheson took the time to visit several laboratories in Dorsky’s home neuroscience department.
“Really, the best advocates we have are the scientists themselves,” Dorsky said. “So if people have an interest, I think it’s worthwhile for them to try and get involved because that’s the best way you’re going to make Congress aware of the impact of their decisions on funding.”