From Lab to Senate, How a Young Scientist Came to Work on the Hill
How does a biomedical sciences student with interests in clinical research go on to intern in the United States Senate? Like many other students, my undergraduate career followed a traditional path toward higher education. I kept my grades up, participated in extracurriculars, and was involved in a few clubs on campus. However, thanks to friends, mentors and the internet, it was clear that a career in STEM presented an immense number of other amazing opportunities.
Looking into these opportunities, research quickly grabbed my attention. A professor was the first to introduce me to research and he motivated me to explore summer research opportunities. Looking back, I am grateful he did, because now after three research internships with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) I am truly passionate about research. The research conducted under the NIH STEP-UP program opened doors for me to present at conferences across the nation, meet amazing students and professionals in the biomedical sciences field, and start a student success website, Student Scientists.
An opportunity later came to do something different. My university has a program which allows select students to spend a semester interning in Washington, D.C. I was selected for the Fall 2017 program and spent some time thinking about how to make the most out of this internship. Of course as a young scientist a research internship at the main NIH campus seemed to be the best choice. Now, while I love research and medicine, a part of me was curious about the policy side of science. How does a scientific discovery made in a lab translate to clinical applications and in turn affect public policy?
The next step was to do what a scientist should do: research. Who in the Senate is most involved in health and science policy? It became clear that Senator Roy Blunt from Missouri was one of the greatest proponents of health and science in the United States Senate. Senator Blunt is the Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies which funds the Department of Health and Human Services and the NIH.
In the last two years, Senator Blunt has written and passed two bipartisan bills to increase the NIH budget by $2 billion. This year he is working on passing a third bill which, if approved, would provide another $2 billion and result in a 20% increase to the NIH budget in just 3 years. He was also recently awarded the Public Advocacy Award by the Society for Neuroscience and was awarded the Edwin C. Whitehead Award for Medical Research Advocacy by Research!America in 2016.
As a Senate intern I’ve been able to attend advocacy meetings and briefings on the latest advances in health and science, meet some of the greatest influencers in the field, learn from legislative staff from both major parties, work on basic research for staff, and attend hearings on important governmental issues, including, most recently, the opioid epidemic.
Without a doubt, my experience in the United States Senate has enhanced my career. As an aspiring physician-scientist, it is an advantage to have hands-on knowledge on how to approach public policy, the importance of advocacy, and how scientists can make an impact in government.
I encourage STEM students of all levels to consider a government internship. Find a congressional committee, scientific organization or member of congress that works in your field and reach out. We need scientists in government too.
Ramon Misla David is an intern for Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) and founder of Student Scientists.