Washington Update

AAI Public Policy Fellows Program: A Model for Member Advocacy

By: Lauren G. Gross, JD
Thursday, January 17, 2019

The answer: The American Association of Immunologists (AAI) Public Policy Fellows Program (PPFP). The question: how could AAI meaningfully engage early career scientists in policy and advocacy?

Now in its eighth year, the PPFP enables 10 postdoctoral fellows and assistant professors to participate in a year-long program that explores how federal legislative and agency activities impact the conduct and funding of biomedical research, and how AAI works to advance the interests of its members and the broader research community.

The PPFP, which includes annual meeting activities and regular conference calls, also features networking opportunities, scientific review of key AAI advocacy materials, and briefings on relevant policy topics. The program culminates in a visit to Washington, DC, where fellows meet with their members of Congress and employ the skills they learned to advocate for increased funding for the National Institutes of Health. Other than attending the AAI annual meeting and participating in the PPFP Capitol Hill Day, fellows remain at their institutions and are able to fulfill their research and other responsibilities.

AAI Committee on Public Affairs (CPA) Chair David D. Chaplin, MD, PhD, Professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, calls the program “pioneering and successful.  We are very gratified that, of the 70 AAI member-scientists who have completed the program to date, 100 percent have reported that, based on their experiences, they would participate again and would recommend the program to other eligible scientists.”

Judy L. Cannon, PhD, Associate Professor at the University of New Mexico, was a member of the inaugural fellows class in 2011-12. Now an AAI CPA member and chair of its Advocacy Programs Subcommittee that manages the PPFP, Cannon is thrilled to help a new generation of AAI members learn the importance of advocacy at early stages of their careers.

“The PPFP gave me my first experience interacting with Congressional policymakers about the importance of immunology and how federal funding impacts basic research,” Cannon said. “I could not have anticipated how important that experience would be in enabling me to stay engaged in biomedical research advocacy, or to help my community shape the future of science through advocacy.”

The program is so well regarded at AAI that the CPA now includes four PPFP graduates: Cannon; Ling Cao, MD, PhD, Associate Professor at the University of New England; Joshua J. Obar, PhD, Associate Professor at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth; and Gretchen Diehl, PhD, Assistant Professor at Baylor College of Medicine.

AAI is accepting applications for the 2019-2020 program year through January 22, 2019. More information, including applicant qualifications, is available at https://www.aai.org/Public-Affairs/PPFP.