Ph.D. students learn how to tug at federal purse strings

Berkeley Ph.D. students Andrew Bremer (left), Jo Bairzin (right) with Representative Mark DeSaulnier (center) of California’s 11th District, in Washington, D.C.

Four Berkeley Ph.D. students in STEM fields recently headed to Washington, D.C., to learn a critical skill that that has nothing to do with physics, biology or engineering: how to effectively communicate with policymakers to secure funding from the federal government.

The foursome attended the Catalyzing Advocacy in Science and Engineering (CASE) workshop, held by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). CASE educates STEM students on science policy matters – including in-depth learning about the mechanisms of federal research spending and how to engage with policymakers as scientists.

Their time in D.C. culminated with a meeting with real live California politicians, including Representative Mark DeSaulnier and staffers from the offices of Representatives Barbara Lee,  Kevin McCarthy and  Nancy Pelosi and Senators Tammy Baldwin and Ben Sasse. The students presented their research and talked about the federal funding that enabled it and the importance of this type of funding to scientific and technological progress.

The evidence of the importance of these skills came in the $1.3 trillion federal omnibus spending bill that was passed last Friday. Included was the largest increase in research spending in nearly a decade, according to AAAS. Research and development spending in the bill totals $176.7 billion – up nearly 13 percent over last year’s budget.

“Despite the vast implications of federal policy on science and research in the U.S., I haven’t received any formal education related to government or policymaking as a STEM student beyond my high school civics classes,” says Andrew Bremer, a Ph.D. student in the UC Berkeley-UCSF Graduate Program in Bioengineering.

“The workshop enabled me to better understand science policy at the federal level and offered useful professional development to become a strong advocate for science as a graduate student and in my future career,” he added.

The students also learned about the structure and organization of Congress, the federal budget, and ways to accomplish effective science communication and civic engagement.

Now back at Berkeley, the four students who attended are planning on sharing their newfound knowledge by holding events for the wider campus community. More information can be found at the science policy at Berkeley webpage.