Increasingly, funding for science research is fairly tight, and many professional societies and higher education institutions have begun programs to advocate on Capitol Hill for their fields. The Entomological Society of America (ESA) began a Science Policy Fellowship program in 2014, selecting 5 individuals (myself amongst them) to advocate on the Hill, learn about policy, spread the entomology word, etc. We conducted our first DC visit last week, for which I wrote up a blurb for the ESA STEP (Student Transition and Early Professionals) newsletter based on some questions they provided. I figured I would share my answers, here. This is a brief run-down of what we did and the program, but I encourage everyone to get involved (either in ESA or otherwise), by helping to right policy papers, speaking to your representatives, voting, writing letters, and anything else you can think of!!
What kind of role do you see policy playing for ESA, and where do the policy fellows fit in?
This past week, the five fellows had the opportunity to meet with the offices of 30 Senators and Representatives of Congress (individually, we hit about 6-7 each). As most of us are from somewhere else, living somewhere else, we covered a wide geographic area and range of political affiliations, with the intent of discussing ESA as a resource for these offices and promoting our science. Since it is “Appropriations Season,” we timed this visit to emphasize the importance of different agency budgets in funding entomology. One staffer in an office I visited with did not even know what entomology was (that was actually my favorite office!), and so this advocacy seems to be incredibly important in educating people regarding the wide implications of our science. We as a group of fellows have had long discussions regarding how these visits will actually benefit ESA, but as the first class of fellows, the five of us have a lot of freedom in dictating how we will engage with ESA as a group. We suspect that it may take time, but as we build a network of individuals with the background in how to appropriately engage with our policymakers, over time we may notice more discussion about entomology by entomologists in congressional hearings, etc.
What are you learning? What kind of insights have you gained?
I have been surprised by how much I still have to learn about the legislative process. The offices we visited with were incredibly busy, meeting with several other organizations throughout the day with similar advocacy agendas. It seemed like the offices really took into consideration what I had to say, and especially in regards to how it would affect their constituents. This surprised me for some reason, and while it felt effective in terms of advocating for specific funding, it was also super fun to talk to adults about why I think my science matters. I suppose the most basic “lesson learned” so far is that everyone should take the opportunity to engage with their representatives (and they seem to make it easy if you are in DC, with opportunities to visit offices, constituent events, tours they can arrange for you of the Capitol, etc.).
How does the program help your career?
I have always had an interest in outreach and advocacy, and I really enjoy engaging with people in informal settings to discuss my scientific areas of interest. The fellowship is providing excellent opportunities to practice this skill, while increasing my knowledge and capacity in communicating with non-scientists. I am also learning so much about our field and society from four other practicing entomologists, while building camaraderie with the group (shout out to Marianne, Rayda, Jamin, and Anders!). Obviously, it remains to be seen how it will help my career over the long-term, but I find these types of activities very motivating, which is definitely helpful in the short-term.