Young scientists from across the nation will fan out on Capitol Hill on Tuesday to engage policymakers in discussions about today's grand research challenges and to practice communicating the importance of supporting scientific discovery financially to bring medical and technological breakthroughs to bear.
The undergraduate and graduate students participating in "Hill Day," sponsored by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, have a number of messages they intend to send to Congress. Organizers say the experience is likely to be a life-changing one for the emerging researchers, many of whom are performing important laboratory work back home.
"This is one of our most important activities," said Thomas Baldwin, dean of the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences at the University of California, Riverside, and a member of ASBMB's public affairs panel. "Not only does it afford us an opportunity to talk with our elected representatives in Congress, which itself is a critically important activity, but it is an opportunity for young scientists to engage in the process of public debate. These are our scientific leaders of the future. Getting them involved now will pay dividends to the science community for years to come."
Fordham University chemistry major and undergraduate researcher Stacey Barnaby, who is to meet with the staff of U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-New York, among others, said she believes the nation is at a turning point in its history and that it is natural for scientists to play leading roles in helping to determine what's to come.
"It is scientists who spend many hours in the laboratory and come up with leading breakthroughs toward the cure for a disease, or vaccines, or build new materials for solar cells, or biofuels, to perhaps one day make us independent of foreign oil," she explained.
William Shadrick, 33, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who is to meet with the staff of U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., echoed her sentiments, saying: "Cleaning up the (Gulf of Mexico) oil spill, determining permissible emission levels for power plants and establishing sound management policies for the wolves of Yellowstone are all problems that require the input of science in order to make a sound decision."
Meanwhile, Ratika Krishnamurty, a 26-year-old graduate student at the University of Washington in Seattle who is scheduled to meet with the staffs of U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., emphasized that "science is not a partisan issue" and that making policy and funding decisions on the high-quality data made available by scientific research is the best approach.
"Behind every experiment is a story," said 28-year-old Selena Gell, a doctoral candidate at Brown University. "A story that reveals why it is important to understand the folds of a protein or the formation of nerve synapses. While the story may seem clear to the students and scientists directly involved, too often that story is lost on the world outside research."
These days, the amount of data available to policymakers is growing exponentially, said Gell, who is scheduled to visit with U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., so scientists must present clear and compelling narratives.
"Scientists have a duty to make sure that basic research, which does not always have a straightforward application, continues to be part of the national science agenda," Gell said. "By providing context for research programs that may otherwise seem obscure, scientists can help ensure that these projects, which will eventually provide a backbone for future technical or medical advancement, are not neglected."
Other participants will include students Carrie Chambers of Wichita State University, Lauren Amable of the University of South Alabama, Sloan Warren of Yale University, Jessica Slater of Loma Linda University, Sarah Bergeron of the University of Iowa and Fred Wu of New York Medical College.
About the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
The ASBMB is a nonprofit scientific and educational organization with more than 12,000 members worldwide. Most members teach and conduct research at colleges and universities. Others conduct research in various government laboratories, at nonprofit research institutions and in industry. The Society's student members attend undergraduate or graduate institutions. For more information about ASBMB, visit www.asbmb.org.