With the scientific community potentially facing deep cuts to grant-awarding agencies, like the NIH, advocacy for funding research efforts has been re-ignited. Not only does science funding provide financial support for academic and government scientists, it fuels product development and collaboration opportunities for scientists in industry and scientists abroad. Engaging in the advocacy process and reaching out to policy-makers and the public is a crucial component of maintaining and improving the quality of STEM trainees entering your field as well as your salary and career opportunities.
Below is an introductory guide on how to effectively advocate for science funding.
1. Get Comfortable
You might feel a little squeamish at the prospect of engaging in the political process at all. After all, the debate of whether scientists should sit on the sidelines and be 100% objective about politics is an ongoing one. However, be assured that many scientists have played important roles as political activists in areas beyond their specific scientific fields. A few prominent examples include Albert Einstein, Ursula Franklin, Harvey Washington Wiley, Rachel Carson! These scientists went beyond advocating for science itself and were called to social causes.
When it comes to advocating for research dollars, you have a major stake in the game. And you shouldn’t worry about making your voice heard—in fact, calling on society to financially support science is widespread and becoming accepted as an ethical practice by more and more scientists. So go on, get out there!
2. Educate Yourself About Science Funding
Next, learn about the history and the issues surrounding science funding. After all, conducting research has evolved since the days when a cloth merchant invented a microscope with common materials and discovered an entire world of microbes! Most scientific discoveries now require vastly more training and resources.
Art Jahnke of Boston University wrote an excellent article detailing how we got to the point where government funds most basic research, and where we might go in the future if a decline in funding continues. In short, scientific efforts could be funded by industry and philanthropic institutions—but competition for these dollars is cutthroat and not a likely short-term solution. For the time being, academic science is underfunded and requires significant external input to maintain its current momentum.
3. Contact Your Politicians Face-to-Face
Did you know that you have more options than simply writing or calling your representative? As it turns out, there are entire organizations that arrange events and train scientists in the art of advocating for science funding in person! This includes groups like the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Biotechnology Innovation Organization. AAAS specifically offers workshops to help scientists become familiar with policy and advocacy. And some field-specific associations have their own workshops (see below).
4. Get Involved With Professional Associations
Many associations have pages and workshops on advocacy within their fields. Some examples are the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB), American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB), American Society for Microbiology (ASM), American Chemical Society (ACS), and the Society for Neuroscience (SFN). Check out what your association has to offer!
5. Make it Your Career
Very few scientists decide to run for public office. Among the 435 members of the House of Representatives, there is only a single physicist, chemist, and microbiologist! One reason for this may be that the public has a lukewarm interest in electing scientists, but most people I know have never considered the possibility to begin with because it seems especially difficult. But current political events have catalyzed an onslaught of scientists looking to run for office.
Another more mainstream option is to go into science policy. There are a plethora of resources on this topic, including from professional associations mentioned above—so be sure to check them out and get involved!
6. Get Involved With the Community
Finally, the broadest impact that we can have when it comes to improving the scientific funding situation is to persuade the public that dollars put toward research have big implications for the economy. Getting involved with outreach in any capacity teaches people that science creates jobs and fuels innovation and technology for generations to come.
Consider incorporating discussions of science funding into formal outreach events and into everyday conversations with friends and family. Consider CRISPR, which began as an investigation into bacterial defense systems and has rapidly grown into technology that might soon transform medicine and agriculture. Or research into the mating habits of screwworms that ultimately led to eradication of this agricultural pest, saving the U.S. cattle industry an estimated $20 billion!
The bottom line is this: We never know what we can discover when we have the tools and financial support to answer scientific questions. Advocating for science funding is paramount to developing tomorrow’s solutions!
Let us know how your efforts have gone in the comments!