My year as an American Geophysical Union (AGU) Voices for Science advocate has come to an end. At the beginning of this program, I had never contacted my policymakers about any topic, let alone science. I was also uncertain about balancing my work as a graduate student with more regular science outreach activities. As the year draws to an end, I wanted to reflect on my involvement in science policy due to this program and encourage others to become involved, either with this program or on your own.
Voices for Science (VFS) is a year long program sponsored by AGU starting in 2018 with two different tracks: Science communication and science policy. The goal of VFS is to grow and foster a network of talented science-communication and science-policy advocates in the United States in order to amplify and strengthen the voice of science. By building relationships with communities, journalists, policymakers, and stakeholders, this program differs from many others due to regular involvement with experts at AGU. By committing to the program, advocates agree to carry out 1 science policy or science communication outreach activity a month. After a multiple day orientation in Washington, D.C. in April, advocates conduct monthly telephone calls with AGU staff and other advocates in their region to help support these outreach activities. I found I was often completing 3-5 outreach activities a month.
My 2018 VFS class included 30 scientists from 27 different institutions across 16 states and 23 congressional districts. From April until November 2018, we collectively completed 350 individual outreach activities and engaged more than 5,500 people. At the beginning of VFS, my science policy outreach activities started small. I started this blog (yay!) and made a YouTube video about my research. Using my connections I made while visiting my policymakers on the Hill with AGU, I also sent the representative's offices new studies I thought may be of interest. In July, I wrote an op-ed about a new study linking poor air quality with diabetes and sent it to my decision makers. I was really excited when my senator's office called me to thank me for sending the editorial and to talk about air quality in my state.
After this interaction, I realized how impactful my actions were. I was always worried about "bothering" or "annoying" my policymakers, but this contact made me realize how important it is for people to share their experiences and expertise with the men and women who represent them. This may seem a little obvious to some, but I lacked the confidence to make this step before. Since then, I have contacted my representatives a lot--about science related bills I want them to support, like the Hidden Figures Congressional Medal Act, and other issues I think are important, like education. In fact, earlier this week, Maryland's Senator Ben Cardin visited the University of Maryland to talk with students about his Strengthening American Communities Act and the upcoming Higher Education Act reauthorization. I was fortunate to be involved in the student discussion and asked about the Senator's support for students in STEM given the need for 1 million more graduates in these fields over the decade. It has been pretty exciting to be a resource for my policymakers and involved in conversations about making change based on science. As the year wraps up, I am happy to announce the start of a new graduate student science policy organization at the University of Maryland called Graduate Science Policy at UMD (GSPatUMD). We do not have a website or anything yet, but I am excited to help lead this group in science policy.
I will miss the monthly calls and regular interaction with AGU and other advocates, but I am so proud of all our accomplishments. At the beginning of VFS, I was not sure what to really expect over the year. I never thought I would host a congressional letter writing breakfast about science funding in the congressional budget at the university, or write about my research and involvement for a variety of organizations, including Women in Aviation International, the American Meteorological Society, and the Journal of Science Policy and Governance (JSGP). Looking forward, I am eager to continue my involvement in science communication and science policy. Best of luck to the 2019 Class of VFS!