Student view:

Brandon Rohnke: Advocating for science

Feb. 27, 2019

Brandon Rohnke (back row) is a graduate student in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and studies in the Montgomery Lab.

It can be hard to figure out what voice scientists have during times with such uncertain funding and support from policymakers. That’s why students in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology took advantage of an amazing opportunity to participate in a science advocacy event in early February, during a visit organized by the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

We traveled to the U.S. Capitol to meet with the staff of seven legislators from our districts. Our goal was to highlight a myriad of federally funded science research programs that fuel our significant research. Benjamin Corb, director of public affairs over at ASBMB, guided us through the process and helped us make the most of the visit, accompanying us on many of our visits on Capitol Hill. He also helped us work the underground tunnels connecting the legislators’ offices and pointed out legislators who passed by.

We found that all of our legislators’ staffs were very friendly and supportive of scientific research, so we were glad that we got to tell them firsthand how effective science research is — for students, careers and the public.

We owe much thanks to MSU’s BMB department, which has worked hard to expose students to different career options for young scientists. This is proving to be an important step for science training programs — as we need science experts in industry, policy and communication, as well as in Academia.

While in D.C., we met with an MSU graduate student from MMG, Taylor Dunivin, who is wrapping up her doctoral work and is a Science and Technology Policy Fellow at the National Academy of Sciences this spring. Between her insights and our meetings with others involved in the political side of things, we found ourselves considering how we can be more engaged in science advocacy.

One of the biggest takeaways for us is how easy, yet essential, it is to advocate for science. Staff, all the way from your local district up to U.S. senators, are very friendly and happy to meet with you. I wondered why I hadn’t done so before!

Many of us had never handed out business cards, but by the end we were trading them and building important connections to the people who must ultimately decide what things get funded. For those of us considering careers in science policy, this was an unparalleled, real opportunity to experience what it is like and learn what we can do to develop our skill sets.

Read more about his experience