Howard Garrison Advocacy Fellow

Haily Traxler

Haily Traxler is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Kentucky.

Describe your interest in participating in the program.

Traxler: The Howard Garrison Advocacy Program is an exciting opportunity to gain formal training in science policy advocacy. I am a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Kentucky. My research focus is on understanding and treating substance use disorders. As a postdoc, I have learned the importance of science policy advocacy to promote legislation based on scientific evidence and support scientists at every level. Through this fellowship, I will gain transferrable interdisciplinary knowledge and skills in science policy advocacy at the federal level. These skills will build on the foundations of my current training in state-level advocacy and help me reach my greatest potential as a science policy advocate. As a postdoctoral trainee, my initial interest in pursuing science policy advocacy stemmed from experiencing barriers to the widespread dissemination of evidence-based treatments for substance use disorders. In particular, my research focuses on contingency management (CM), an operant intervention in which participants earn rewards contingent on verified achievement of a specified behavioral goal (e.g., drug abstinence or medication adherence).

CM is a well-supported treatment for substance use disorders in the literature. In 2021, the Biden Administration named CM as one of its top priority areas for drug policy in the first year of Biden's presidency. Despite the robust research supporting CM and its promotion by the Biden Administration, widespread adoption of CM has been slow. The lack of adoption of CM is partially due to problems with insurance coverage. Thus, policies need to be developed to ensure that CM is supported.

While researchers continue to verify CM's efficacy in treating substance use disorders, I am interested in learning how to push the growing body of research into acceptable clinical practice through policy change. In addition to advocating for policies that support my research interests, I have become intimately aware of other policy issues relevant to science. That is the wellbeing of scientists. While there are many ways in which promoting science policy can support scientists (e.g., additional funding opportunities and access to resources), additional advocacy efforts are needed to promote scientists in postdoctoral roles. Postdocs often face difficult decisions, such as following academic pursuits versus earning higher wages or pursuing an academic career versus starting a family. Unfortunately, postdoc benefits are often not up to par with regular faculty. Many postdocs leave their positions to pursue financially stable careers with additional family/medical benefits. This is detrimental to the scientist's career and the scientific enterprise. Therefore, it is important to advocate for improved benefits for postdocs and retain high quality scientists in academic roles. The training I will gain through the Howard Garrison Advocacy Program will help me gain training and perspective from various scientific disciplines. This experience will help me to promote policies that benefit scientific research and scientists successfully. I am excited by the opportunity to gain skills in federal-level science policy advocacy.

How do you plan to use the knowledge and experience gained through your participation in the Howard Garrison Advocacy Program? 

Traxler: With the knowledge and experiences that I gain through the Howard Garrison Advocacy Program, I will better support the initiatives of the committees I am a member of, including the Kentucky Advocates for Science Policy and Research (KASPR), the Society of Postdoctoral Scholars (SOPS), the College on Problems of Drug Dependence (CPDD) Public Policy Committee, and the Healing Communities Study (HCS) Policy Work Group. As Vice President of KASPR, I will use the knowledge and skills I gain to train members on best practices in science policy advocacy. I will use my skills to strengthen the foundation of KASPR and promote its continuation into the future. The knowledge and experiences I gain will also help me promote other postdocs' well-being through SOPS. I will learn strategies for successful advocacy efforts and push for policy changes at the university level to ensure that postdocs receive fair benefits. Through this fellowship, I will translate the advocacy skills I learn to promote policy change in substance use disorder treatment. The training I gain from this fellowship will allow me to meaningfully contribute to the efforts of the CPDD Public Policy Committee. The CPDD Public Policy Committee supports scientific research from bench to bedside. Through effective advocacy with this committee, I will be prepared to pursue policy advocacy that benefits scientists and promotes scientific research in my field.

Using no more than 250 words, describe your research as you would to a non-scientist.

Traxler: My research is focused on understanding and treating substance use disorders. One of the most effective interventions for treating substance use disorders is contingency management (CM), an intervention in which participants are provided with small, often monetary, rewards for meeting targeted behavioral goals such as reduced substance use or adherence to medications. For example, an individual participating in CM for alcohol use may be required to provide a daily breath alcohol sample reading below .02 breath alcohol level (BAL) to receive a small daily financial incentive. In this case, CM may be implemented remotely using a smartphone application and substance use monitoring devices (e.g., pocket-sized breathalyzer). Abstinence is verified through photos and videos of the individual using the monitoring device, and a small payment is provided immediately upon verification of meeting the goal. In addition to investigating treatments for substance use disorders, I study human decision making to understand the conditions under which substance use occurs and predict responsiveness to treatment. To study decision making, I use behavioral economic techniques. This involves manipulating the cost/effort required to obtain a commodity to understand its value. It also involves assessing preference for smaller, immediately available rewards compared to larger but delayed rewards. People with substance use disorders (SUDs) often exhibit two behavior patterns: they will pay more or expend more effort to obtain drugs than people without SUDs, and they choose smaller, immediate rewards over larger, delayed rewards more frequently than people without SUDs.

Briefly describe any past or present participation in additional career exploration activities, experiences, and/or programs.

Traxler: I am the Vice President of the Kentucky Advocates for Science Policy and Research (KASPR), an interdisciplinary team of graduate students and postdocs from scientific disciplines promoting science policy. Members of KASPR select science-related bills being discussed in the Kentucky legislature and form a stance based on scientific evidence. Members generate one-pagers and present them to legislators during Hill Days. I am the Director of Communications in the Society of Postdoctoral Scholars (SOPS). I communicate important information from the executive committee to the postdoc body.

The executive committee supports postdoc interests, including employment benefits, skill-building opportunities, and socialization with other postdocs. One of the main initiatives of the executive committee in 2023 is to promote improved family medical leave benefits for postdocs. In addition to supporting this initiative, I am working with the Director of Postdoctoral Affairs to clarify the postdoc Administrative Regulations. I am a new member of the College on Problems of Drug Dependence (CPDD) Public Policy Committee. CPDD includes scientists who conduct bench to bedside research on substance use disorders. The mission of the Public Policy Committee is to improve the visibility of CPDD as an organization across platforms like policy discussions or community initiatives. I am a new member of the Healing Communities Study Policy Work Group, which promotes the sustainability of harm reduction strategies across Kentucky. In this group, I will have the opportunity to collaborate on publications and work with stakeholders in the community.

Haily Traxler is a member of American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, a FASEB member society.