By Shaun O’Brien, co-president of the Penn Science Policy Group. O’Brien is a fifth-year immunology graduate student at the Perelman School of Medicine (a Research!America member).
In response to the need to voice the concerns of young biomedical graduates and post-docs over the federal funding climate, graduate student Mike Allegrezza founded the Science Policy Group at the University of Pennsylvania. Over the past 6 months, our group has been involved in advocacy efforts along with examining other specific issues pertaining to careers, graduate education and other hot-button issues.
In terms of advocacy, the group has been very active in opposing sequestration, the across-the-board spending cuts for federal agencies, and educating the public about the impacts of sequestration on medical research. In the time leading up to the sequester, our group wrote an op-ed for The Daily Pennsylvanian, had terrific op-ed pieces by Alana Sharp and Ellen Elliot on the group blog, participated in interviews with The Philadelphia Inquirer, and even had Nicole Aiello, a third-year doctoral student at Penn, do an interview with NPR!
The implementation of sequestration didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of our club, as our group continued to be active in our advocacy efforts. The “Rally for Medical Research” in April served as a focal point for our group, as we had 22 members of the Penn Community go to DC. We participated in the well-attended rally and then headed up to Capitol Hill. Our group set up staff visits with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN), Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Sen. Joe Donnelley (D-IN), Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA), Rep. Bob Brady (D-PA), Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ), Rep. Charles Dent (R-PA) and Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-PA). We made sure to thank the supportive staffers and also educate them about how National Institutes of Health funding was necessary for job creation, development of medical treatments, and lowering health care costs. Overall, it was a very productive trip as many staffers acknowledged the need to continue to support the NIH during these tough funding times and appreciated our visit.
Our next effort focused on bringing “DC to Penn” via our Penn Science Research Symposium which was held on April 12, 2013. This event typically highlights the student research of the different science programs at Penn through posters and student talks. As the Science Policy co-President and chief coordinator of this event, I decided to also engage the political community. Staffers from the Pennsylvania congressional delegation were invited to attend the poster session, in order to learn about how NIH grants were being used to create jobs, new medical breakthroughs and fund innovative basic research. Staffers were also able to meet with concerned students, post-docs and faculty members whose labs were being adversely impacted by sequestration. To close out the event, Rep. Fattah delivered remarks. He appreciated the opportunity to talk to the science community at Penn and also exhorted the science community to continue to share any research progress via social media as a means to get the ear of Congress. Overall, this was a well-attended event as multiple faculty members, students and post-docs were able to share with staffers about the need to support the NIH and to prevent future funding cuts to the NIH.
In conclusion, our group is working hard to continue to find ways to educate our Penn community about legislation on the Hill; engage our local representatives about the importance of funding medical research; and details on how continued cuts to medical research will create a generation of lost scientists.