Advocacy by Early Career Scientists

Caitlin Grzeskowiak & Gwendolyn Bogard

Civic engagement is a critical skill set for scientists. It creates an opportunity to take part in our democracy at any career stage while contributing a much-needed scientific perspective to important issues facing our communities and nation.  Scientific research is heavily dependent on public funding with almost 50% of support for basic research coming from the federal government. But did you know STEM students are the student population with the lowest voter turnout? Knowing how to dialogue with policymakers and the public is vital to strengthening research as a national priority.

Early career scientists may not know where to begin, but there are a host of ways to get involved. Individuals may contact their representatives in Congress or participate in a scientific society Hill Day. Scientists can make a huge impact by sharing their experiences, especially in person—stories are immensely effective advocacy tools. Events like the Rally for Medical Research give advocates training followed by opportunities to meet with members of Congress.

For more ideas, check out Research!America’s student advocacy page or sign up for our advocacy alerts. Also on our website, you can find examples of science story telling, like in this blog on PTSD risk among veterans by Tamar Rodney, MSN, RN.  Alternatively, share your journey to becoming a scientist and how federal funding has shaped your experience.

One powerful approach to science advocacy is to form a local science policy interest group, working with other students on your campus, as well as your school’s government affairs office, can maximize your impact as an advocate for science. Research!America is proud to offer microgrants to fund early career scientists’ advocacy efforts. Now in its second year, we’re providing graduate student- and postdoc-led science policy groups with resources to host events that demonstrate roles science and research play in local, regional and national issuesengage. Our new Science Meets Science Microgrant track offers STEM students an opportunity to work with social scientists to engage elected and non-elected officials as well as community leaders. (Already a part of an eligible science policy group? Apply HERE by September 20!)

Last year, Research!America funded proposals for events ranging from op-ed writing workshops to Q&A forums bringing together policymakers and scientists on topics of mutual interest. The theme of last year’s proposals was local bipartisan candidate engagement for the 2018 midterm elections. Another Research!America microgrant recipient, Catalysts for Science Policy at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, held an workshop providing attendees with an overview science policy, career guidance, and how to become involved in advocacy. They hosted both candidates for the Wisconsin Secretary of State election. According to group, “The 2018 R!A Bipartisan Civic Engagement event was truly a rewarding experience for our organization and our community. Having the opportunity to host the candidates for the Wisconsin Secretary of State seat gave our attendees a glimpse into the inner workings of local government. I was surprised at how accessible these candidates were.”

Many other grantees were pleasantly surprised by the results—“We weren't sure what to expect, but as soon as the first scientist concluded her talk, all five candidates raised their hands to ask questions. We couldn't have asked for better interaction between candidates and scientists,” reported a member of the grantee Missouri Science & Technology Policy Fellows (MOST). Click here for a complete list of activities from previous microgrant recipients,

Working in a lab may, at times, seem all-consuming. However, using a small part of your week to take action can have an outsized impact, and moreover, engaging with your community is one essential way that you, as a scientist, can ensure the scientific community can continue its important work for years to come—so get started today!



Caitlin Grzeskowiak is the Science Outreach Coordinator for Research!America. Gwendolyn Bogard is a Research!America Communications Intern.

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America’s economic destiny lies in innovation, technology, science and research.
The Honorable John E. Porter