Howard Garrison Advocacy Fellow

Jazmine Benjamin

Jazmine Benjamin is a graduate student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Describe your interest in participating in the program.

Benjamin: Upon beginning my PhD program, I thought that getting my degree in Biomedical Science could only result in one of two career endpoints: academia or industry. In 2018, I began to work with an outreach program focused on teaching hands-on science experiments to students in Birmingham City Schools. While working with a class of enthusiastic students, I began to wonder how and why many students lost interest in STEM before graduating from high school. I came across an article suggesting that the Alabama state curriculum was not tailored to student's interests during middle school, resulting in many students becoming less interested in STEM or losing their interest altogether. I also considered my upbringing; I was naturally curious as a child but had no interest in a career in STEM upon graduation from high school. In college, I subsequently became interested in science as it fed my curiosity about the world around me. I realized that, overwhelmingly, students were not being served by their K-12 STEM education, ultimately resulting in a lack of diversity in higher-level scientists. After learning about the science-policy field, I realized that I could marry my love for science with my eagerness to advocate for those systematically excluded and overlooked. Thus, my passion for policymaking and advocacy was born.

Applying for the Howard Garrison Advocacy Program is a natural extension of my experience in science policy and advocacy. As a Biomedical Sciences PhD program student, most of my training has been geared toward the critical thinking and communication required to engage with other scientists. Speaking of my own advocacy experience, I have attended the ASBMB Capitol Hill Day and the AAAS CASE Workshop in Washington, D.C., and virtually. I co-founded the Science Policy and Advocacy Initiative, which introduces graduate students and postdoctoral scholars to the field and allows them to become familiar with how they can make the most of their roles as topic experts in their exchanges with the non-scientific public. For the past four years, I have served as the Science and Technology Policy graduate fellow for the Alabama chapter of the Scholars Strategy Network. Being a part of this organization has allowed me to develop relationships and participate in collaborative projects with lawmakers, community leaders, non-governmental organizations, and journalists across the state. I have also served as President of the UAB graduate student body for the past two years. This position has given me numerous opportunities to advocate for our graduate student community's best interests and well-being. I eagerly look forward to better understanding our government's inner workings and how to address and act on science-relevant issues. I especially look forward to visiting Capitol Hill to put what I've learned into practice.

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

Benjamin: I intend to use the knowledge gained from the Howard Garrison Advocacy Program to feed back into my community in Birmingham, Alabama. My ultimate goal and first interest in policy stemmed from K-12 STEM education, and I hope to be able to use the things I learn in the program to better advocate for sustainable changes to the curriculum in my state. I also co-lead our science policy group on campus and intend to share my experiences and lessons learned with our students and postdoctoral fellows during our organization meetings. Ultimately, I hope to pursue a career as a science policy analyst at the state or federal level. I believe that the Science Policy and Advocacy Course and opportunities to network with policy and advocacy experts will put me in a strong position to apply for the position I desire.

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

Benjamin: Circadian disruptions (CDs) are disturbances in 24-hour timing. They most often occur between our daily behavioral cycles and the environment. CDs are an independent risk factor in cardiovascular disease, although we know little about its effects on the kidney. My research is focused on investigating how long-term CD via eating at the wrong time of the day contributes to poor kidney health. As both males and females participate in shift work, our studies are among the first to use both sexes to study these effects. Our work is particularly relevant to shift workers and even parents of newborns, who are often at the mercy of their babies' sleep/wake cycles. Shift workers may work night shifts for months or years, so it is important to understand the long-term effects of CDs on vital organs. Hopefully, findings from my project can be used to advocate for better working conditions for shift workers, many of whom work in careers critical to our society's health.

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

Benjamin: I have previously participated in the ASBMB, FASEB, and AAAS Hill Days. I have been the Science and Technology Policy Fellow for the Alabama chapter of the Scholars Strategy Network, which connects expert researchers with the journalists and policymakers that need their input. In 2020, I co-founded the Science Policy and Advocacy Initiative, the first student-led comprehensive science-policy organization in Alabama. I also served two terms as the president of my university's graduate student body, a responsibility that thrust me into the inner workings of my university and the myriad workgroups and committees that keep our enterprise running.

Jazmine Benjamin is a member of American Physiological Society, a FASEB member society.