On the role of scientists in advocacy: what interning at Research!America has taught me

By Megan Kane, PhD

Megan Kane

Megan Kane

As reported on Research!America’s blog and in numerous media channels, scientists are facing a difficult funding environment made even worse by sequestration. I am one of the members of the “entire generation of scientists at risk” that NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins and others have referenced in their warnings about the long-term harm of sequestration. Due to tightening budgets in research laboratories, I was forced to make a decision earlier this year: either delay my graduation from my doctoral program or look for immediate employment outside of a lab environment and possibly never get back to the bench.

A colleague pointed me to the advertisement for a communications internship with a non-profit: Research!America. I was in the midst of pondering alternative careers with my science background and was leaning towards science writing or communication. This communications internship seemed to be a tremendous opportunity to write about science and issues relevant to researchers and advocates in a non-technical format. And it has been an incredible experience.

I have gotten so much more out of this internship than practice with writing and a foray into the world of blogging.  My time at Research!America showed me just how important advocacy is for the health of science and research. And advocacy isn’t limited to writing letters to the editor or pleading with your representatives in Congress to take action on your behalf. It involves building and maintaining a sound research pipeline, committing to a high level of scientific integrity, participating in public engagement, and showcasing what research gives back to society.

Most importantly, I now see the necessity of scientists engaging throughout their careers in multiple levels of advocacy and outreach. Young scientists should start now by learning about advocacy, how policy can impact what they do in the lab and whether or not their research is impacting the people they want to help. Experienced scientists have the authority and experience to speak on the benefits of research and how policy can impact the speed of scientific progress. And leaders of research institutions have a significant role to play in shaping the culture of their organization and influencing how their local community can benefit from and positively impact science.

Scientists: advocate within your social network, your local government, your community or on the national level—however far your reach, the more positive voices we have for research, the better. Research!America has resources freely available for you. Many professional societies also have resources for their members and others make them available for free, as well. Advocacy will not only help protect your career, but it will mean protecting life changing medical advances in the future. Taking time to advocate for medical research means you can positively impact someone’s life not only through your own work, but by ensuring the entire research community can bring their innovations to fruition.

Megan Kane recently completed a three month internship with Research!America after completing her doctoral degree in human genetics. She is now a postdoctoral fellow in a genetics laboratory in the Washington, DC area.

One response

  1. This is very true, advocacy and outreach are too frequently seen as a a distraction from “real” science, but in today’s world we need to view them as an integral part of what it means to be a scientist.

    It’s not just in the US that scientists are realising that they need to stand up for themselves, all over the world scientists are starting to take advocacy more seriously. For example last Friday (14 June) Spanish scientists took to the streets to protest against cuts to the science budget http://www.nature.com/news/spanish-scientists-protest-to-save-research-1.13207 while a few days earlier students and scientist across Italy held events to call for better scientific information and an end to the culture of scientific ignorance that is threatening the future of their country http://speakingofresearch.com/2013/06/14/the-day-italy-united-for-science-8-june-2013/

    Perhaps scientists around the world could join together hold an international day of action for science.

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