From the Research Bench to Research!America: My personal March for Science
Seven years ago, I moved to Baltimore to begin my neuroscience Ph.D. studies at Johns Hopkins University, conducting science research funded by the NIH and NSF on how brain cells form connections with one another. These networks of cells are thought to be the basis of memory, and improper network formation could lead to cognitive disorders. We have utilized our knowledge of these mechanisms to diagnose and treat a variety of disorders caused by faulty cell-to-cell connections.
As a student, I also found a passion in advocating for science. To improve my own communication skills, I founded Project Bridge, a student-led organization to foster public interest in science research by connecting scientists with the local Baltimore community. We brought together scientists and the public at restaurants and farmer’s markets to discuss a variety of scientific topics. These events led me to work with Research!America to bring together a coalition of graduate students at Johns Hopkins University. The goal of the project was to encourage graduate students to reach out to their congressional representatives to voice support for the 21st Century Cures Act. Now as a science policy fellow at Research!America, I am learning new skills to continue my science advocacy efforts.
Two days after my fellowship began, I joined the March for Science on the National Mall. As a student, I have learned how past discoveries have already impacted millions. As a scientist, I recognize how my own research, and work from my fellow graduate students in Huntington’s disease and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) could one day impact many people. Given my experience in graduate school, I marched not only to celebrate the great achievements made by my predecessors and colleagues, but to ensure that the sustained federal funding required would be available for future scientific discoveries.
On April 22, I joined tens of thousands of science supporters to march through the rain, weaving between the monuments in our Nation’s capital. Attendees proudly displayed signs that encouraged others to join the march (Stand up for Science!), showed off their witty science humor (If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the precipitate), and reminded us of the global impacts of science research (Ever seen smallpox? Me either! Thank a scientist.). The variety of signs reflected the diversity of marchers. Children and adults alike exhibited an immense pride for science and its effects on society.
The sheer spectacle of thousands, gathered together on a gloomy Saturday to march for science, has already begun to create a new generation of advocates for science and the ideals it upholds. My time at Research!America has highlighted the impact that a small number of people can have on raising health research as a national priority. Seeing the immense crowd gathered in Washington, D.C. and images from around the world, I can only begin to imagine what we will be able to accomplish.
Daniel Pham is a Research!America Science Policy Fellow.