Scientists push for increased funding on Capitol Hill

During this year’s spring season, a group of 26 students and postdocs from MIT journeyed to Washington to engage with congressional staffers in advocating for increased funding for science in the upcoming fiscal year 2025. These discussions held particular significance in light of recent budget reductions affecting multiple federal science agencies for FY24.

Over the course of two days on April 8-9, the participants engaged with a total of 85 congressional offices representing 30 states. They collectively pushed for a total of $89.46 billion in science funding spread across 11 federal scientific bodies.

On an annual basis, the MIT Science Policy Initiative (SPI) coordinates the Congressional Visit Days (CVD) event. This initiative provides a firsthand experience of the U.S. federal policy-making process and highlights the various methods through which researchers can advocate for scientific advancement. The participants also had the opportunity to connect with MIT’s Washington-based alumni and engage with members of the MIT Washington Office to explore career options in policy.

Marie Floryan and Andrew Fishberg, both PhD students in the departments of Mechanical Engineering and Aeronautics and Astronautics, respectively, jointly organized this year’s CVD. Prior to the trip, the attendees underwent training facilitated by SPI, the MIT Washington Office, and the MIT Policy Lab. The training sessions covered topics such as federal funding allocation processes, the roles of elected officials and their staff in legislation, and strategies for researchers to engage in policy advocacy.

Reflecting on the experience, Julian Ufert, a doctoral candidate in chemical engineering, expressed, “CVD provided a unique platform to communicate my research findings to policymakers, gain insights into U.S. political dynamics, and contribute to the wider scientific community. Establishing connections both on Capitol Hill and within the MIT community of science policy enthusiasts was truly fulfilling.”

Besides advocating for increased science funding, the participants also lobbied on issues directly related to their research projects. A diverse array of subjects were on the agenda, including artificial intelligence (AI), cybersecurity, energy technologies, and biotechnology. Of particular interest was the burgeoning field of AI, exemplified by cutting-edge technologies like ChatGPT, which spurred discussions among various offices, leading to the formation of a bipartisan AI Task Force.

These dialogues proved mutually beneficial: The participants gained insight into the legislative processes and hurdles involved in policy implementation, while the congressional staffers received firsthand input from academic researchers on the requisites for fostering scientific progress and innovation.

Sharing his perspective, Vipindev Vasudevan, a postdoctoral researcher in electrical and computer engineering, remarked, “Witnessing the strong congressional engagement in science and technology policy matters was truly enlightening. The staffers exhibited a keen awareness of technological advancements and expressed eagerness to understand the societal impact of our research endeavors.”

Adding to this sentiment, Dina Sharon, a doctoral student in chemistry, pointed out, “Our interactions in Congressional offices served as rich learning experiences! The conversations shed light on policymakers’ objectives, the role of science in achieving these objectives, and the potential for scientists to bridge the gap between research and policy domains.”

Participants further underscored the personalized impact of science funding on their academic pursuits, emphasizing the crucial role of federal grants in supporting their graduate studies and advocating for increased access to research outcomes.

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