In October, I attended a two-day workshop on federal STEM policy and advocacy in Washington, D.C., an incredibly eye-opening experience organized annually by Vanderbilt University’s Office of Federal Relations. My motivation to apply for this workshop was fueled primarily by my (for lack of a better word) ignorance of how science policy is influenced through advocacy by various stakeholders and how it’s ultimately created and implemented at the federal level. Naturally, I’ve seen the trickle-down effects of science policy in my stipend and my lab through funding of the MSTP program and individual investigators, but who are the big shots on “the Hill” and how do they determine if and which STEM programs are worthy of our tax dollars?
Over the course of the workshop, I, along with 28 students and postdocs from various STEM disciplines, engaged with officials in both the Executive and Legislative branches of government, as well as representatives from scientific societies and associations who promote federal investments in STEM. Highlights included a role-playing exercise of a mock appropriations committee meeting regarding budget allocation of national science organizations, an overview and representative panel of the various career opportunities in science policy, and a networking dinner with Vanderbilt alumni. I was particularly curious about the Cancer Moonshot initiative and the creation of Blue Ribbon Panels and was able to learn more about how these policies were crafted. In addition, we had the unique opportunity to hear an insider’s preview of the presidential election (which, like everybody else, did not quite predict the outcome we were handed!).
After the conclusion of the workshop, I stayed two extra days with family friends to explore the city. I came to really enjoy D.C. and everything it has to offer, including the diversity, the never-ending lines of food trucks, the pleasant strolls around the presidential monuments, and all the free Smithsonian museums – I really wish I could’ve spent a whole week there! Though my time at the capitol was fleeting, my experiences there have had a lasting impact. I came back to Vanderbilt with a better understanding of how science policy is born and why we need more STEM representation in D.C. I met many like-minded, bright fellow graduate students and postdocs with whom I am still in touch, as well as alumni who have established themselves on a career path towards advancing STEM at the federal level. Now, more than ever, we need to let our voices be heard. So reach out to your congressman or join a professional society – the conversation starts now.
You can read more about this event here.