By Amanda Koch, Ph.D. Candidate
Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Colorado State University
First, I would like to introduce myself. My name is Amanda Koch. I am a graduate student pursuing my Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Colorado State University. I work in Dr. Tim Stasevich’s lab where I study a particular mechanism that viruses use to steal away host machinery to make viral particles, ultimately causing cell death and systemic infection. Our lab has this awesome, home-made microscope that allows us to see this process happening in real time, within living cells, and at a single molecule level (see video below), all of which are revolutionary to the field. I am super excited about science and my research, but, I am also curious as to what else a scientist can do besides bench work and analysis.
I quickly realized that I enjoyed communicating my science to other people. At times, I felt my enthusiasm for my research transferring to others which were extremely rewarding. Because I enjoyed science communication, I wanted to be a better communicator and I wanted to use my skill to advocate for research and for scientists! Around the same time, I became interested in science policy and politics leading to my drive to begin a science policy organization at CSU, Science in Action.
A few months ago, I caught word about a science policy and communication workshop called Catalyzing Advocacy for Science and Engineering hosted by the AAAS in Washington, D.C. The whole idea of the workshop is to teach students how to communicate science in a simple but effective way and to use that skill to advocate for science research funding to policy-makers.
To effectively ask for funding for science, we needed to first understand how the federal budget is formulated, how funds are appropriated, and what agencies receive the funds. The first day we learned from experts about the federal budget process, the structure and law-making processes of Congress, and how science policy is made. With all this information and understanding, it was easier to formulate a conversation with policymakers about research and science funding.
The second day focused on job opportunities in the science policy realm, how congressional offices and committees operate, and importantly how to effectively communicate to policymakers. The panels of experts that spoke to us about jobs in science policy were extremely insightful and opened my eyes to the wide range of opportunities that exist within science policy realm. Many of the speakers that worked for congresspeople or on committees received fellowships through the AAAS after completion of a Ph.D. They all said that the fellowship was a wonderful way to get experience working for a congressperson and begin building a network.
Finally, we put all of what we learned to the test in meetings with our state’s congresspeople and their staff at the Capitol. We familiarized ourselves with different legislations that affect science or education and used that knowledge as talking points to begin a conversation with our congresspeople. The main idea of these meetings is to make your point as quick and concise as possible because congresspeople and their employees do not have much time allocated for each individual meeting. WHY your science is important is the most critical talking point in these meetings. Having anecdotes pertaining to the influence of your research to the state you live in or the US, in general, is also invaluable.
A few fellow graduate students from CU Boulder and I met with staffers with science and education portfolios from Senator Bennet, Senator Gardner, and Congressman Polis’s offices at the Capitol. We were also lucky enough to catch Congressman Polis as he was going to lunch and have a brief conversation with him. In these meetings, we talked in simple terms about our research first. We thanked Senator Bennet, Gardner, and Congressman Polis for their consistent support of science funding and urged them to continue to do so in the upcoming voting events. We then focused on how federal funding is absolutely necessary for our work and livelihood. It was also important to emphasize how science and innovation increase the quality of life by strengthening the economy and by improving healthcare technology in the state of Colorado.
In these discussions and throughout the workshop, I learned the essential tools of communicating in a concise manner about my work and science policy to politicians. I hope to now take all that I have learned at the CASE workshop to Colorado State University and teach my fellow scientists how to effectively advocate for science.
It is challenging to talk about complicated scientific topics to non-scientists, but it is important that we work hard to make what we do accessible to the public and to policy-makers. Ultimately, they are the ones paying our bills!