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CASE Participant Reflects on Her Experience

Nearing the completion of my PhD in biomedical research, I’ve begun to truly appreciate the challenges that exist from the scientist’s side of science policy. As academic scientists, we need to secure funding to engage in research. To do this, we need to communicate the value of our work to various federal agencies, and to the people who those agencies serve. We want to use the knowledge we’ve gained to improve quality of life, the accessibility of technology, and the knowledge base that will encourage the future generation of scientists and engineers.

The opportunity to learn how to more effectively communicate as a scientist and become actively involved in the ‘policy and advocacy side’ of the coin led me to attend the Catalyzing Advocacy in Science and Engineering (CASE) workshop in Washington, D.C. this April 2015; I was sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) as a student member. The program included a comprehensive mix of speakers with science policy backgrounds, including those who develop the federal research and development (R&D) budget, and those who help shape legislative policies. Having personally applied for federal funding, I was especially intrigued by the federal R&D budget process, which was explained by Matthew Hourihan, Director of the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program, as well as Kei Koizumi, Assistant Director for Federal R&D at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Simply seeing how the budget is divided – from mandatory vs. discretionary spending, non-defense vs. defense R&D spending, and even basic vs. applied research spending within the non-defense R&D was incredibly insightful.

Using our newfound budgetary knowledge, the workshop attendees were given the opportunity to develop an appropriations bill and provide justification for each agency’s funding level – most surprising was that even amongst fellow scientists and engineers, the choice of and justification for distributing money was incredibly variable. Aptly pointed out by Mr. Hourihan, “every dollar in the budget has its claimants!” 

Using the skillset that I’ve gained from my experience, I plan to share what I’ve learned with fellow graduate students and colleagues at my home institution, UCLA. I’ve come to appreciate in particular the need to communicate across multiple levels – from students and faculty scientists, to administrators and legislators – in order to advocate for our needs and to shape realistic expectations on all sides. I am incredibly grateful to AAAS for having given me the opportunity to participate in the CASE workshop, and I am looking forward to continuing on in this capacity as both ‘scientist’ and ‘science advocate.’

Kathy Myers is a fifth year PhD student studying neuroscience at the University of California, Los Angeles. She has published several papers, and is a student member of AAAS.