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Science Policy Interest Group Starts On Campus

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Author: Mika Sifuentes | Category: Around Campus | Beyond The Bench | February 15, 2017

In recent years, it has become clear that science advocacy is critically necessary to maintain growth in research and science industry. As the nation continues to recover from a recession, scientists have had to compete for relevance and funding against other demanding interests, often appealing to lawmakers with little scientific expertise. 

Years of dwindling resources have significantly impacted the nature of research, publishing, and grant applications, to the extent that it can be felt at even the graduate student level. These changes have inspired a growing number of scientists to learn more about the role of advocacy to support research and science-backed legislation. As a graduate student with an interest in a career in science policy, I have seen a noticeable increase in policy opportunities – and competition – for scientists considering entry into the world of politics.

For years, scientists have mostly remained content with a narrow focus on lab work, allowing politics to remain the realm of career politicians. Yet slowly, this has started to change. Public misconceptions about vaccines, global warming, evolution, and genetically modified organisms have demonstrated to scientists that there is a great need for experts to have a voice on these issues. Recently, this need has become even more clear as science has been thrust into the political limelight amid the furor surrounding the new presidential administration. As the New York Times put it, some scientists are “showing signs of a political pulse.”

Sensing this, some organizations have stepped forward to meet this demand. The American Association for the Advancement of Science hosts workshops and fellowships aimed at young scientists, and a growing number of professional societies have joined in to create opportunities for students to make their voice heard in Washington D.C. Taking this a step further is the goal of 314 Action, a brand new nonprofit political action committee aimed at getting scientists themselves into office. Still, many grad students are unaware about what they can do now to get involved or make themselves more competitive for a career in science policy.

The Science Policy Interest Group

To address this issue, I started the Sciency Policy Interest group for students and postdocs at UT Health San Antonio. This group aims to connect trainees curious about getting involved in science policy at any level, whether it’s to learn more about current events or to seriously prepare for a career transition. From there, the group can act as a network to help trainees engage in science policy in any manner that fits their interest level or career plan. 

As a graduate student, I have individually published on policy and advocated to lawmakers on the behalf of health organizations, but these activities can certainly be expanded to involve more people to increase our impact. Just this month, I and two other trainees traveled to Austin to take part in the American Heart Association Advocating for Heart event, which provided advocacy training and arranged meetings with legislators and staff to talk about upcoming health initiatives. Not only was this a great learning experience for us, but it helps the public put a face to the men and women who are passionately working to advance science and improve health.

The existence of a Science Policy Interest group at UT Health San Antonio is fairly overdue, and though this organization is just beginning, there is substantial momentum for trainees to hit the ground running. Our own Vice President of Research, Dr. Andrea Giuffrida, is an alumnus of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science & Technology Policy Fellowship program and has spent a year in the Office of the National Institutes of Health Director working to improve research enterprise. It was his advice and that of a postdoc who took part in a similar program that motivated me to successfully apply for the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Thereapeutics (ASPET) Washington Fellowship Program. The program opened the door to many new opportunities – such as planning a Science Policy symposium proposal for a major national conference – and I would like to use my experience to help others. 

Fortunately, I have found strong encouragment from all levels: students, postdocs, and faculty alike. As a recent example, I reached out to the school administration to ask for funding to send students to the upcoming AAAS Catalyzing Advocacy in Science and Engineering workshop, and was met with enthusiastic support.

It is my hope that by creating this group I can help trainees see that they have the power and resources to start influencing now. Young scientists have tremendous potential to improve science policy, and there’s no time like the present. Want to meet with your representative or arrange a lab open house? Are you looking to collaborate on a paper for the Journal of Science Policy & Governance

Do you just want to share your ideas about science policy or learn about fellowship opportunities? Then contact Mika Sifuentes at to join the conversation.

Mika Sifuentes (@neuro_file) is a Neuroscience student working in the lab of Dr. Jim Lechleiter. Her research focuses on the underlying mechanisms of thyroid hormone enhanced neuroprotection after acute brain injuries.She is interested in examining the role of fatty acid oxidation (FAO) in this process. She is currently developing a new optical microscopy approach, super-resolution, to directly study this process in vivo. She is also passionate about science advocacy and science policy issues.

The "Beyond The Bench" series features articles written by students and postdoctoral fellows at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at The University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio. 

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