Volunteer Advocacy Sends a Powerful Message
For FASEB President Kevin C. Kregel, PhD, the opportunity to advocate on behalf of biomedical and biological science with state and federal lawmakers is one of the most important privileges and opportunities of scientists and researchers who volunteer for FASEB and its member societies.
“One-on-one advocacy with policymakers is a way to support and advance biomedical and biological research efforts in a broad and impactful way,” said Kregel, Executive Vice President and Provost at the University of Iowa. “The other part of it, in my mind, is that when you're able to advocate directly with policymakers, it’s a significant opportunity to amplify the voices of all biomedical researchers across the U.S.”
The drive in the U.S. toward research excellence is especially important right now, as recent international reports have noted that U.S. research and development (R&D) spending is down across the board, including in the biological and biomedical sciences. This has created a landscape where the U.S. has fallen behind nations such as Germany and China in R&D spending. “Believe me, when members of Congress and their staffers hear that kind of information, it catches their attention,” said Kregel. “I am convinced that our advocacy efforts can have a far-reaching impact for FASEB societies and their members, and we want to make sure our scientists are engaged and contributing to what we do going forward.”
It sends a particularly powerful message when individual scientists can help educate decision makers about the importance of biomedical research in their states and how that research is having tangible effects in their districts, said Kregel. In that way, scientists from a local university or institute can paint a clearer picture of the impact of biomedical research on the lives of people in places as diverse as Alabama, California, Illinois, and New Jersey.
Kregel recommends that early-career scientists take advantage of opportunities to volunteer as advocates as early as possible. He knows it may be hard for them to find the time for these kind of volunteer activities, but they are enormously helpful in building confidence and developing new skill sets. Kregel noted that their youth and determination add a special dynamic to FASEB advocacy initiatives.
“I’m not sure younger scientists fully appreciate how advocacy can impact their livelihoods in a positive way. For instance, it is important to have sustained increases in federal funding from sources such as the NIH and NSF to advance science across a broad range of disciplines, including biomedical research, and that is a top priority for FASEB,” he said. “And there are several other tangible ramifications on their careers, including a better understanding of agency funding priorities and policies and regulations that can impact their day-to-day research activities.”
Their participation is even more critical in that they will be the next generation of leaders in scientific societies, and they will have to carry the responsibility for advocating for biomedical science in the future. “I think our early-career scientists can be the ones to really energize congressional members or federal funders because they are in the laboratories and they have great stories to tell right now about their research and the value it brings,” said Kregel.
There are numerous secondary benefits of volunteer advocacy, including building a network of new connections in the field and in the government and stepping out of your research niche to look more broadly at biomedical research. “In terms of research, you're engaging with people who are doing a lot of different kinds of science,” said Kregel. “And if you're in Washington, you’re engaging with people you might never have thought you’d be able to meet such as members of Congress or NIH staffers or government regulators.”
For those interested in joining the ranks of advocacy volunteers, there are a myriad of tools available to volunteers, said Kregel. The FASEB website has briefing materials, funding factsheets, and video tutorials. Plus, FASEB’s Office of Public Affairs is available to help scientists through the process of identifying where they might plug in their skills and interests.
“People really have no excuses for not volunteering because we have so many resources available for them to make it easy,” said Kregel, noting the options run from speaking at local town hall meetings to writing opinion or editorial pieces for their newspapers or radio stations to attending Capitol Hill Day, FASEB’s highly regarded day of advocacy in Washington, D.C.
“I think the biggest hurdle for scientists in advocacy is that it requires you to step out of your comfort zone,” said Kregel. “That can be hard at times for scientists who are most comfortable in the lab, but it’s also important to understand that a small amount of time devoted to something like this can pay huge dividends. It’s really time well spent.”