Advocating for science funding on Capitol Hill

Categories: MIT News, Research, Students

PhD students and postdocs recently met with legislators to share expertise and advocate for science agency funding.

This spring, 26 MIT students and postdocs traveled to Washington to meet with congressional staffers to advocate for increased science funding for fiscal year 2025. These conversations were impactful given the recent announcement of budget cuts for several federal science agencies for FY24.

The participants met with 85 congressional offices representing 30 states over two days April 8-9. Overall, the group advocated for $89.46 billion in science funding across 11 federal scientific agencies.

Every spring, the MIT Science Policy Initiative (SPI) organizes the Congressional Visit Days (CVD). The trip exposes participants to the process of U.S. federal policymaking and the many avenues researchers can use to advocate for scientific research. The participants also meet with Washington-based alumni and members of the MIT Washington Office and learn about policy careers.

This year, CVD was jointly co-organized by Marie Floryan and Andrew Fishberg, two PhD students in the departments of Mechanical Engineering and Aeronautics and Astronautics, respectively. Before the trip, the participants attended two training sessions organized by SPI, the MIT Washington Office, and the MIT Policy Lab. The participants learned how funding is appropriated at the federal level, the role of elected congressional officials and their staffers in the legislative process, and how academic researchers can get involved in advocating for policies for science.

Julian Ufert, a doctoral student in chemical engineering, says, “CVD was a remarkable opportunity to share insights from my research with policymakers, learn about U.S. politics, and serve the greater scientific community. I thoroughly enjoyed the contacts I made both on Capitol Hill and with MIT students and postdocs who share an interest in science policy.”

In addition to advocating for increased science funding, the participants advocated for topics pertaining to their research projects. A wide variety of topics were discussed, including AI, cybersecurity, energy production and storage, and biotechnology. Naturally, the recent advent of groundbreaking AI technologies, like ChatGPT, brought the topic of AI to the forefront of many offices interested, with multiple offices serving on the newly formed bipartisan AI Task Force.

These discussions were useful for both parties: The participants learned about the methods and challenges associated with enacting legislation, and the staffers directly heard from academic researchers about what is needed to promote scientific progress and innovation.

“It was fascinating to experience the interest and significant involvement of Congressional offices in policy matters related to science and technology. Most staffers were well aware of the general technological advancements and eager to learn more about how our research will impact society,” says Vipindev Vasudevan, a postdoc in electrical and computer engineering.

Dina Sharon, a PhD student in chemistry, adds, “The offices where we met with Congressional staffers were valuable classrooms! Our conversations provided insights into policymakers’ goals, how science can help reach these goals, and how scientists can help cultivate connections between the research and policy spheres.”

Participants also shared how science funding has directly impacted them, discussing how federal grants have supported their graduate education and for the need for open access research.