Washington Update

The ASBMB Advocacy Training Program: Energizing Local Grassroots Advocacy

By: Daniel Pham, ASBMB
Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The 2017 March for Science was a watershed moment, as an unprecedented number of scientists took to the streets to show their support for the scientific enterprise. Although many marchers became involved in local advocacy efforts, some found it hard to translate the enthusiasm at the march into concrete advocacy activities.

The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) saw a similar trend at the time, when society members expressed a desire to participate in advocacy but did not have the tools to engage. In response, ASBMB developed the Advocacy Training Program (ATP), which aims to train a passionate group of scientists who want to learn advocacy skills, and establish leadership opportunities for them.

An opportunity for all

The ATP is open to all ASBMB members, from undergraduates to retirees. The first cohort of 10 delegates included two undergraduate students, five graduate students, two postdoctoral fellows, and one faculty member. The second (and current) cohort has 12 members, and the society will accept applications for the third cohort this spring.

The ATP is a digital, teleconference-based program, allowing participants nationwide to engage without sacrificing a great deal of precious study or research time.

After the training phase, ATP participants choose one or two issues to focus on for the rest of the term. They are encouraged to select topics that matter to their communities to engender a sense of ownership in their work.

A focus on local advocacy

While traditional ASBMB advocacy efforts focus largely on federal-level issues and involve  interactions with members of Congress and leaders at federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, ATP participants focus on issues at the university, city, and state level. Science literacy in Atlanta, NIH funding for scientists in Puerto Rico, the mental health of science trainees in Colorado: all are issues that ATP participants have taken on.

In this way, the local-level work of ATP participants complements the federal-level work done by ASBMB’s public affairs staff members and ASBMB Public Affairs Advisory Committee (PAAC).

ATP alumni are invited to become involved with the advisory committee, which has working groups on topics such as sexual harassment, NIH policies, and member engagement. Several delegates from the first ATP cohort have joined PAAC working groups with interests that align with their own. In addition, the PAAC has a working group specifically for ATP alumni interested in working on national issues.

Looking forward

ASBMB has taken cues from the Society for Neuroscience’s Early Career Ambassador Program and are eager to assist other organizations interested in setting up their own training programs. Sustained, local advocacy efforts benefit the scientific enterprise as a whole.