Science and policy are likely companions. Legislators affect life-changing societal changes and through their support, scientists can continue their research innovations for the future. AAAS member, Adriana Bankston, Ph.D., works at the intersection of science and policy, advocating for the needs of graduate students and postdoctoral researchers and amplifying their stories on Capitol Hill.
Bankston’s path to science policy and advocacy has not been a straight line, however. Her journey began in the laboratories of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, where she received her Ph.D. in biochemistry, cell and developmental biology in 2013. She then pursued postdoctoral training and became interested in career development for postdocs. She continued by developing and leading a career seminar series and was on the postdoctoral studies committee, where she advocated for university policies to benefit postdocs. These experiences led to a change in her career trajectory towards science policy with a focus on trainees.
“I remember the days in the lab, knowing I was looking for more impact,” recalls Bankston, “It’s about following your interests and passions,” which she did, and it paved the way to a multitude of leadership roles as an advocate for graduate students and postdoctoral researchers.
In 2020, she became the Co-Director of the Policy Taskforce at Future of Research – a non-profit dedicated to grassroots advocacy by and for early career researchers. She had been involved with the organization for a few years at the time. In 2018, she wrote a data-driven paper about the range of postdoctoral salaries across U.S. universities. This publication led to a traveling campaign to universities nationwide, advocating for better pay for postdocs. The campaign had a direct impact on salary increases, and the work was highlighted in media outlets including Nature. “I have always advocated for science and early career researchers, and this is why I’m here now,” states Bankston.
There are various career avenues to explore in the world of science policy and advocacy. Bankston’s work over the years offers options for student involvement, including research, further courses, attending events and conferences, and membership in organizations and societies. She also leads science policy and advocacy trainings for graduate students and postdoctoral researchers as they enter the job market and apply their education and training skills towards societal impact.
“I think science policy and advocacy training should be offered by universities across the board,” she states, “including how to tailor your message to and communicate with policymakers. Trainees are motivated to advocate for their needs, but it is important to provide them with the tools to best articulate their points and communicate their position.”
At this time, Bankston continues her science policy and advocacy work in Washington, D.C. as a Principal Legislative Analyst with the University of California. Her work includes a wide range of duties as it relates to the next generation of scientists, from advocating for research funding to support the STEM pipeline, helping graduate students write letters to legislators, and to meetings with Capitol Hill staff to interface with decision-makers at the federal level on a number of scientific issues impacting the STEM workforce. “Legislative staff like to hear from trainees on how federal funding has helped their research advance as well as their careers in science,” says Bankston. “That is really impactful.” You can learn more about her work in the field here.
While supporting the next generation of scientists is often a priority for legislators, creating a dedicated entity in Congress to focus specifically on the needs of graduate students was long overdue. This is why she supports the GRAD Caucus, a trailblazing initiative launched in July 2022 by MIT and Carnegie Mellon graduate student leaders. The GRAD Caucus is a bipartisan initiative that aims to advance policy solutions needed to support graduate students at the national level.
In 2022, Bankston contributed language to the graduate STEM education section of the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022, which expands eligibility for professional development funding to postdocs. President Biden signed the monumental bill into law in August 2022, which includes language that Bankston helped craft, and is now awaiting implementation. As a professional who transitioned from research into government relations relatively recently, her involvement with the legislation is “something I never imagined would happen, it is very exciting,” she says.
Bankston continues to keep busy. In addition to her work in science policy and advocacy, since 2021, she has been the CEO and Managing Publisher of the Journal of Science Policy & Governance (JSPG), an internationally recognized, open-access, and peer-reviewed journal which publishes policy pieces and amplifies the work of students, postdocs, policy fellows and early career professionals in policy and governance debates worldwide. According to Bankston, this experience “is really rewarding because for many trainees, publishing in JSPG is a stepping stone into a science policy career.”
It has been fruitful for Bankston to see more engagement in science policy and interest in publishing in JSPG from trainees around the world, and to help them advance beyond academia. She continues to shine the light on these important projects happening worldwide. During her tenure with JSPG, Bankston aims to continue expanding the journal’s reach internationally and focus on promoting the critical work of early career published authors. In all her endeavors, she is looking for ways to bring early career stories off the page and activate policymakers to take action in supporting the next generation of scientists.
“This is the future of science policy: trainees who are up and coming, learning, and growing the field with their innovative research ideas with far-reaching societal benefits,” declares Bankston.
This post represents the member's views and not the views of their employer.