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Advocacy for Scientists – Why and How

Posted in: Personal Development

Advocating for the research that scientists perform is important.  Your advocacy helps politicians and the general public understand why funding is needed. In fact, many funding agencies require a disease to be associated with the research, because citizens and politicians do not typically care to fund projects unless they foresee a cure or treatment. Scientific advocacy also helps to ensure that, in difficult economic times, lawmakers do not reduce funding for scientific research.

But What About the Researchers Themselves?

Advocacy for scientists themselves is also important. Usually the general public is not aware that many scientists maintain work schedules similar to (or exceeding) medical professionals. Short nights of sleep go hand-in-hand with biomedical research as much as they coincide with the schedules of medical doctors. This lack of awareness is a direct result of the lack of interaction between bench scientists and the general public. Thus, biomedical researchers are somewhat “silent achievers,” establishing treatments for diseases behind the scenes and, sometimes, without recognition.

This needs to change! Citizens of any country will be more likely to want some of their tax money allocated to science, if they fully understand the challenging nature of biomedical research. For example, the difficult nature of obtaining grants, the years it takes to go from a project inception all the way through a clinical trial and getting a drug/therapy to the public, and the hard work that makes all of this possible.

Here’s what you can do to help.

Encourage Future Scientists

Encourage students to become scientists by going to primary schools and speaking to children about the benefits of science and how exciting it can be to be a scientist. Just take your knowledge and enthusiasm with you! Children love to hear about someone enjoying their job, and the interesting aspects of the job.

Alternatively, plan a Science Career Day at a local high school or middle school, and have scientists speak to students about their professions. Remind the scientists to take small demonstrations with them if they have something easily transported—visuals stimulate a child’s interest. Introduce the students to the various careers in science, so they can consider if that profession is something they might want to pursue.  Make sure you include fields of science that are sometimes overlooked, especially by children: Patent Law, Medical Writing, Environmental Science and Climatology, Hydrology, Forensic Genealogy, Pathology, Meteorology, Cartography, Aviation, Agriculture, Photonics, Speech Pathology, Physical Therapy, Bioinformatics, Osteopathic Medicine, and the Physician Assistant program, among others.

Another way to advocate for science is by promoting “take your child to work” days among your fellow scientists.

Or how about judging local science competitions? If your city does not have science fairs, then create some!

Create Healthy Competition and Awareness

Plan a science expo at a local junior college and encourage students to pursue science. Use your creativity! For example, you can create a science treasure hunt event: student attendees follow the campus map to each location, answer questions and get a clue to the next location. Award prizes for completing the event in the shortest amount of time. Support the cause by contacting local businesses to ask for sponsorship of prizes.

Alternatively, create a science fair at a local school, in which students compete with their own projects. Tap your friends and have professional scientists come and judge the posters or experiments. Contact businesses, such as pharmaceutical companies, local science companies, and children’s museums to see if they will sponsor the event.

Instead of having a science competition at the students’ schools, you can have the students bring their creations, experiments, or posters to a local university. Invite local politicians to speak at the event or to distribute awards. This helps connect scientists with the community and local lawmakers. After the science competition, allow the students, teachers, and parents to tour the research labs on campus. This promotes future scientists while also displaying some of the ongoing scientific research at the university. It’s a double dose of science advocacy!

Set up Shadowing Programs in Your Community

Contact other scientists in the community, and ask if they will allow students to shadow them for an hour at their work. Then, speak to schools or advertise your “Shadow a Scientist” program to local students. If too many students respond, have small groups of students shadow a professional for 30 minutes at any given time. Try to keep the groups small, so students have a hands-on experience. This is a great opportunity for anyone younger than college age, so they can begin taking courses geared towards their major. Exposure to various careers might help students focus on a particular area of study right when they are entering college.

Create Opportunities for Students

Coordinate summer internship programs between local colleges and universities/medical schools to allow students to volunteer for the summer in research labs, hospitals, and clinics. If a program already exists, then promote support of this program through funding by local businesses, as well as state and national businesses. Create awareness of this program at local schools through flyers and email announcements.

Create Funding for Future Scientists

Contact businesses in your area, and ask them to help you fund a scholarship for a graduating high school senior pursuing a career in science. Alternatively, approach local science clubs at various schools and ask if they will have a fundraiser to support science scholarships at their schools. Another way to promote science advocacy is to require a brief time commitment of science advocacy that accompanies scholarships/fellowships for students. For example, you could:

  • ask the student to go to a more junior school and speak to children about learning/pursuing science
  • have the student to speak at a community event about what science means to them
  • ask the student to write a letter to their Senators and Congressmen about funding for science.

Speak to Policymakers About Advocacy for Scientists

Write letters to your Senators and Congressmen about science policies and funding. Visit Capitol Hill with other scientists and advocate for scientists and for increased funding for science and biomedical research.

Join Scientific Associations or Attend an Advocate Meeting

Search for and join a science organization such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the Association for Clinical and Translational Science (ACTS), the American Federation for Medical Research (AFMR), and the Clinical Research Forum (CRF).

Advocate for science by attending a scientific conference. Some of the conference registration fees and tuition/dues for professional organizations go towards travel awards and scholarships/fellowships for young scientists. What better way to get involved than attending a conference, enjoying scientific settings, forming potential new collaborations, all while giving back to future scientific generations? Make sure to drop by booths on science advocacy when attending national and international conferences, because you might find new methods for science advocacy.

Everyone can be a science advocate! You can promote advocacy for scientists in many ways: encourage students to explore science, write to your politicians in support of research funding, educate the public for research awareness, and join science associations and scientific conferences.

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