Employ the Power of Advocacy
Scientific advancement is critical to our health, happiness, and economy, but recent proposals to limit federal funding for research could jeopardize future progress. To ensure robust funding for biomedical research and favorable policies grounded in facts, scientists must become their own advocates and engage with their lawmakers.
Bridging the knowledge gap between scientists and lawmakers will benefit all Americans. Because members of Congress typically return to their home districts for the entire month of August, that is an ideal time to connect with and inform lawmakers about the vigorous work done in their state to advance scientific understanding.
“This is one of the most important things we can do as scientists,” said Brenna Beckelman, a PhD candidate at Wake Forest University and SfN Early Career Policy Ambassador (ECPA). “We are our best voice because we know exactly what we need, we know what we do every day in the lab, we know the impact that it can have. Now more than ever, especially with people denying very clear science that's been decided for a really long time, it's just so important to do this now.”
Start the Conversation
Find out who represents you and reach out to them. Legislators work for you and will take their time to meet with you. Let them know you are their constituent and tell them what you study and why it’s important for their voters. Importantly, offer to be a resource to the congressional office; by contributing to the legislative process in this way, scientists can help drive fact-based policies.
“Reminding people that we actually have made a lot of progress and there are things that we're starting to understand that we didn't know, just three or five years ago, is encouraging for them,” said ECPA Brittany Aguilar, a Georgetown University graduate student.
To find out more, join the SfN webinar How to Engage Your Members of Congress at 4 p.m. EST on July 25. The webinar will begin with a legislative update, provide tips on how to be an effective advocate, and highlight the importance of advocacy. The session will conclude with an interactive Q&A session with panel members and participants.
Write Your Representatives
Writing a letter or email is an effective alternative for those who can’t meet with their lawmakers in person. For example, ECPA Monica Linden, a senior lecturer at Brown University, coordinated a letter-writing campaign for her senior undergraduate students to build their advocacy skills. Her students sent 26 letters to 23 members of Congress sharing their research.
“Students developed skills to communicate their research in lay terms, clearly and concisely, and saw firsthand how easy it is to engage with legislators,” Linden said. “It was also an opportunity to reflect on their personal connection to science and the importance of their research experience in their undergraduate career.”
Speak Up at a Town Hall
Many lawmakers hold town halls in their districts for constituents to voice concerns. To engage lawmakers at a town hall be clear and compelling; prepare a personal story, provide data to support your case, and bring information to leave with staff. Follow up and be persistent to help build relationships with policymakers and their staffers.
To find a town hall, check your legislator’s website, Facebook, or Twitter. These events aren’t typically scheduled far in advance, so it’s important to keep checking. Be sure to use social media to share your experience, post photos, and reinforce your main points to the lawmaker by tagging them in your posts and using #SfNadvocates.
Host a Lab Tour
Lab tours provide lawmakers and their staff with a firsthand view of how research is conducted. Tours not only aid in understanding research and its importance, but provide policymakers the opportunity to see what is happening in their community and the broad influence that it can have nationwide. SfN members can view planning tips, watch this video about giving a tour, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance with planning.
“Having co-hosted two lab tours this year, including one with a staff member from Congressman Darrell Issa’s office, I’ve found that it creates an engaging environment to discuss policy issues that impact scientific research,” said Natalie Goldberg, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, San Diego.
“Seeing giant electron microscopes and electrophysiology rigs in action lends significant context to the discussion of why funding is critical to maintaining a productive research environment,” she added. “These tours have opened the dialogue regarding federal science funding and continues as new policy proposals are made surrounding the FY2018 budget. I have been able to share educational materials, as well as concerns with the offices of my representatives, and been able to field questions and receive feedback.”
Don’t forget to talk about your lab tour on social media! Tag your member of congress and use #SfNadvocates to spread the word.
Need help getting started?
- Partner with a local SfN chapter! SfN has more than 150 chapters around the world.
- Contact email@example.com with questions. Staff is happy to assist SfN members in their advocacy efforts!
Engage in International Collaboration
SfN members outside the U.S. can support global neuroscience funding and research by getting involved with advocacy efforts of the International Brain Research Organization (IBRO), the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS) or other national scientific societies.
SfN collaborates with IBRO, FENS, and several other neuroscience organizations on the Global Advocacy Initiative, which is led by IBRO and aims to help develop culturally relevant, interesting educational programs that will create widespread support for neuroscience research across the world.
At a time of uncertainty for the future of science funding, it is more important than ever for scientists to engage in the discussion. Communicate with people about the work you do and educate them on the critical impact research has on their lives. Join SfN’s Advocacy Network to receive our newsletter and stay informed on the latest issues affecting neuroscience research.