August Recess: Congress Comes Home to You
As the summer heats up and people take off on vacation, members of Congress also leave the nation’s capital and head for home. Contrary to popular opinion, however, members of Congress don’t go on a monthlong vacation to the beach. They spend much of their time meeting with constituents, attending events, campaigning for the next election, and taking care of other business in the area they represent.
This makes August a great time to reach out to your member of Congress and advocate for science funding. With district offices, you can easily request a meeting at a location near your home or work and advocate for science research without coming to Washington, DC.
Brian Bingham, then a postdoctoral researcher at University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, contacted SfN for advice on how to reach out to his congressman, Joaquín Castro. SfN provided Bingham with materials on Castro’s background and statistics about health funding in Texas, which Bingham used when he met with Castro’s district director, Cary Clark.
Even though Castro was unable to attend, Bingham said he thought the meeting went very well and the staffer offered to set up a personal meeting with the congressman at a later date. “I felt like Mr. Clark really listened to my point of view and walked away with a bigger appreciation of the need for science funding,” Bingham said. “In fact, as we were leaving, he said that this was in the top three of all the constituent meetings he's had this year.”
On missing the opportunity to meet with the congressman in person, Bingham added: “I had hoped to meet him, but in reality, meeting with staff is extremely important as well. Members of Congress have to know all the issues, and they rely heavily on their expert staff to make that happen.”
Dwight German, a professor in the Psychiatry Department at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, agreed that meeting with staff is just as important as meeting with the member of Congress. During last year’s August recess, he spoke with the legislative assistant who specializes in health and science issues for the office of Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson. Using talking points from SfN, German stressed the importance of funding biomedical research via the NIH and how this research benefits the nation’s health and financial well-being. “They told me Congresswoman Johnson is very supportive of science,” he said. “It was an overall positive experience.”
Meeting with a member of Congress or their staff can also begin a relationship that will continue as Congress heads back into session. German said the staffer he talked to encouraged him to keep in touch. “I offered myself as a resource on any science issues they have going forward,” German said.
SfN Can Help
If you are interested in meeting with your member of Congress, contact SfN for personalized information that you can use to request and prepare for a meeting.
Alex Helman, a graduate student at University of Kentucky, emailed her legislator, Rep. Andy Barr, in June and hopes to meet with him this upcoming August. “I called SfN, and they provided me with a draft email to send to my member of Congress,” she said. “Members of Congress and their staff are very busy, so it’s not too soon to contact them six to eight weeks ahead of time. I’m excited to have a productive meeting this August.”
For more information, check out the “Early Career Fellow” chapter of SfN’s advocacy webinar “Becoming an Early Career Advocate.” This chapter features Katherine Wilkinson, assistant professor at San Jose State University, talking about her experience completing an in-district meeting last year.