Lab Tours With Elected Officials: Communicating Neuroscience Progress and Promise
A guided tour of your laboratory is one of the most effective advocacy tools for making a lasting impression on a member of Congress or government official. During the U.S. Congress’ annual recess this past August, several SfN members took the opportunity to give tours to their elected officials in an effort to show why funding for basic science research is important.
Anthony-Samuel LaMantia, director of George Washington University’s Institute for Neuroscience, hosted a lab tour with Senate staff. During the tour, he explained how his lab’s basic research is expanding the understanding of diseases such as schizophrenia and autism and how the research will improve the human condition. As LaMantia told the story of his research, he used the backdrop of his laboratory to demonstrate the tools that make the science possible.
“Congressional staffers don’t get to meet with actual scientists very often, so I think this was exciting for them,” LaMantia said after the tour. “After they saw the second confocal microscope, they started asking a lot of questions indicating they were following along and understanding.”
With SfN’s help, SfN members around the world can host lab tours and meetings with government officials and their staffs. Through these in-person interactions, scientists send officials an important message about the importance of robust and consistent funding to answer pressing questions related to a wide range of diseases and disorders. The message emphasizes optimism about the future of science and the newly trained scientists who will lead the next generation of discovery.
Also during the August recess in the U.S., Ryan Makinson, an SfN Early Career Policy Fellow, and Kim Seroogy, a member of SfN's Government and Public Affairs Committee, hosted Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH) at their lab at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. The congressman spent more than an hour at the lab learning about the ongoing research investigating mechanisms that contribute to Parkinson’s disease, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“We spoke about the importance of scientific research for human health and how federal funding of science impacts research progression and the economy,” Makinson said
Makinson and Seroogy made sure to introduce the congressman to a wide range of people, from medical center leadership to students just starting in the field.
“It’s important to get [elected officials] out of the Washington mindset that federal dollars just go out the door and disappear,” Seroogy said. “On the contrary, they fund a wide range of individuals and projects that are trying to make the world a better place.”
Makinson and Seroogy also met with Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) at his office in Cincinnati and scheduled a lab tour with him for late September.
If you haven’t communicated with a policy official before, LaMantia suggests starting a meeting or lab tour by explaining what you are trying to accomplish and why it is exciting to you. If you can relay your own enthusiasm and genuine wonder, he said, “They’ll be right there with you.”