Young scientists’ research has a much larger impact on the political world than one might think, said Krupa Jani GS.
Last Wednesday, Jani, the vice president of Princeton Citizen Scientists; 11 other graduate students; and two undergraduate students traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with members of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a science advocacy organization, and members of the National Academy of Sciences, an organization composed of the country’s top scientific researchers, and 22 congressional offices.
This is the group’s second lobbying trip to Washington, D.C. While four of the students on this trip had attended the previous trip to D.C. in May, for the other ten students, this trip was their first experience engaging in political advocacy, according to Jani.
The trip was designed to help members of Princeton Citizen Scientists understand how their scientific research can affect public policy and motivate them to become civically engaged, noted Jani. It served as a follow-up to a PCS-cosponsored Day of Action that was held on campus on March 6.
“Science is not done in a vacuum, and what we do in the lab has a much larger effect on the community than we may perceive,” Jani said. “It’s important for us to be able to communicate and engage with that community.”
To start off their advocacy trip, groups of three to four students visited the offices of several senators and representatives, including those of Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey and Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey. According to Jani, the groups making these office visits each represented one of four categories: STEM education, science funding, energy and environment, and health care.
During their visits to different offices, each group began by presenting policy ideas on their designated topic to a congressional staffer; groups then received feedback from these staffers and worked to discuss the potential consequences of their ideas. Some offices were quite accepting of the ideas that the students presented, while other offices were more skeptical, Jani said.
“Most senators and representatives agreed that healthcare costs were too high,” Jani explained. “But there was pushback against ideas such as lowering tuition waiver taxes and funding solar energy policy.”
After the congressional meetings, the students met with Dr. Alan Leshner of NAS, chair of the Committee on Revitalizing Graduate STEM Education for the 21st Century. The committee’s role in NAS is to identify programs and policies that suit the skills and training needed for today’s graduate and doctorate students to be successful, Jani explains. The students discussed with Leshner what they thought was important for STEM graduate education.
The group consisted of students from several different STEM disciplines, including students from biology, engineering, and computer science backgrounds.
“I think this event really energized us, because we saw that the political world isn’t that difficult to access,” said Jani. “It was exciting to see people like Elizabeth Warren drive by us.”
Ultimately, Jani noted, the group returned from the trip more knowledgeable in policy and motivated to continue advocating for their ideals relating to scientific research.