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  1. Amanda Labuza

    International Women's Day

    Today is international women’s day. It is the perfect day to mention something that has been weighing on my mind. During a communication workshop last week I learned the Center for Public Engagement at AAAS asked the public what words they would use to describe a scientist. Among words like “smart”, “intelligent”, and “nerdy” was also “male”. MALE?! Seriously! I was so upset I interrupted the presentation. The presenter was focusing on communication and skipped over the fact that scientists are described as “male”. That is not okay! It needs to be addressed. I hate that I can work so hard and still be treated invisible by the public. I hate that I can tell my uber driver I am a scientists and be told “You don’t look like a scientist”. Why? Because I am not an old man with white hair and thick glasses? And I hate that after working so hard in lab some one in a bar can say “You’re too pretty to be a scientist.” What does that even mean? That I have to be ugly and disheveled to be a scientist? What does my appearance have to do with my intelligence? It is beyond frustrating. Sadly, when the public says that scientists are males, they aren’t even that far off. The majority of tenured professors are male. In my university I can only think of 3 senior professors who are female. There are just 19 women to win a nobel prize in science. It is a slow transition to reach equality. The world has gotten to used to seeing pictures of Einstein, shows with Bill Nye, and interviews with Neil DeGrasse Tyson. But women are being left behind. We need to get out more so the world can see us. So what do we do about it? Clearly female scientists need to be more visible in the public. I know that, like me, some of you are already trying. For that, thank you. But we need to keep working at it. Consider helping next week with Brain Awareness Week. A study by Microsoft showed that while girls gained interest in STEM subjects at age 11, they lost interest by age 15. Most girls only get to know the joy of unashamed, bold, scientific curiosity for just four years. They need role models to inspire them. They need to see what their future could look like. I want to be one of those role models. Keep fighting. Keep your head held high. Keep supporting one another, male or female. We can’t do this alone.
  2. Amanda Labuza

    SfN Hill Day 2019!

    This time last week I was lying on my bed begging my feet to stop hurting. I don’t have a fitbit, I had heard my group over 8,000 steps before lunch. Even the comfortable flats are no match for walking all over the U.S. Capitol for SfN’s annual Hill Day. But it was well worth the pain. In case you missed our more than 250 #SfNHillDay posts (some of which were mine and they were great!) March 7th was the Hill Day. It is a day when SfN members from around the world come to the U.S. Capitol and advocate for neuroscience. Hundreds more participate from home through contacting their representative’s offices, local advocacy programs, etc. This year our message to Congress included asking for a $2 billion increase to the NIH budget, the release of $500 million to the BRAIN Initiative, $900 billion to NSF, a maintenance of regular order (government talk for passing budgets on time), and asking them to join the Neuroscience Caucus in the House or the NIH Caucus in the Senate. Ready for some impressive numbers? A total of 48 society members attended Hill Day in Washington, D.C. this year visited 83 Congressional Offices, 2 Congressional Committees, and dropped off materials at an additional 17 offices. I didn’t even know we could meet with committees. While most meetings were held with the very powerful and important staff members, SfN got to meet with 15 members of Congress directly! Society members came to represent 25 states and 5 countries including Mexico. Together the #NeuroAdvocates of Hill Day visited 20% of Congress in one day! I told you the numbers were impressive! IMG_20190307_125006749.jpg3024×4032 1.26 MB Personally, this was my third year attending. I arrived Wednesday night to receive training with the 48 other SfN members who had volunteered this year and learned not only what we would be asking from Congress, but tips on effective ways to advocate. They even provided a list of ways to avoid trick questions. I met the other members of my group I’d be advocating with and rehearsed elevator pitches that were jargon free. I was prepared as I could be for what Thursday would bring. The next morning, I woke up before the sun so we could depart from our hotel, be on the Hill, and through security before 8:30AM. While I heard Diane Lipscombe and Rep. Earl Blumenauer gave an amazing introduction, I’ll have to rewatch it because my group had to leave early for our first of 7 meetings planned that day. Throughout the day we met with legislative aids to discuss the importance of funding basic science, provided anecdotes, and deliver information sheets on the economic benefits NIH provides to the nation and each state. We were lucky to have so many productive and positive meetings. IMG_-2hr6sx.jpg1024×768 108 KB In between two meetings @clantz noticed Tim Kaine walking by and grabbed a quick picture before shouting “Support NIH!” as he got on the elevator. Thank goodness we had practiced those elevator pitches! Among our 7 meetings, we dropped off 3 additional packets and one drop off even became an impromptu meeting! Suddenly we are in Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton’s office space discussing NIH funding and thanking her aids for her support. It was a whirlwind of events. By the time our last meeting ended at 3:15 I was exhausted. I found a spot on the floor of the hallway outside some Senators’ offices and started recording notes from all the events of the day. As my group leader was signing thank you notes we noticed the Senator Tom Carper is taking pictures with different groups outside his office. Well we couldn’t let that opportunity pass! We quickly pulled together the last of our information sheets, found a brain pin, pulled ourselves up from the floor, and walked into his office asking for a meeting. While we were in his lobby waiting to hear if they can fit us in, suddenly this tall older gentleman started shaking our hands thanking us from coming. I was in so much shock I forgot to hand him the brain pin! He unfortunately had to go, but we manage to spend 2 minutes with a staff member and quickly tell them to support NIH funding and contact us if we can ever help. This bizarre, last minute, impromptu moment may have been the highlight of my day. IMG_-69m3la.jpg915×846 39.7 KB From there I walked to one last office, apologize for not being able to schedule a meeting, and drop off the last packet with my card attached. I was completely exhausted. I somehow made it through dinner, got on a train, traveled home, and finished my day feeling accomplished. Don’t be fooled though, this wasn’t the end of my work. Follow up is crucial in politics. Some offices were so busy we could only meet for 5 minutes at the end of the day. Sending follow up emails or notes helps them remember who we are. It holds them accountable and ensures the message does get passed from the staff to the Congressmen. No worries, I’ve sent all my follow up emails. But I need to be diligent about it. Congress has already begun working on the budget for fiscal year 2020. There will be many drafts and long debates. I want to ensure that my representatives not only know I want them to support NIH, but I want to provide them with resources to convince others of that as well. If you’ve read this far, you can help too. It is probably quicker than reading this. Find your representative and their contact information on the SfN Advocacy app and send them emails, calls, tweets. Be diligent. Keep contacting, keep speaking up, and keep fighting. And a special thanks to @akatz and @mheintz and their whole team for organizing and running such an amazing day!
  3. Why I Advocate for Science In the Galveston community, I’ve seen a need to increase scientific curiosity among local K-12 students and communicate my research and that of others at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in exciting new ways. My experiences with various science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) outreach programs through UTMB’s Office of Educational Outreach and the SfN Galveston Chapter’s brain fair activities have led me to seek out even more opportunities to make a broader impact. For example, I’m a member of the planning committee for the Galveston County Science and Engineering Fair (GCSEF) and the Committee in Support of Science Education, which selects high school students to participate in UTMB’s Biomedical Research Training for High School Students Program. Additionally, I’m involved with STEM summer camps for 8th and 9th graders. Meeting with Representative John Culberson at SfN’s Capitol Hill Day 2018. How Networking Led to New Opportunities When I searched online for science education volunteer opportunities at the city level, I realized one of the Galveston Independent School District (GISD) Board of Trustees members is a faculty member at UTMB. I reached out to him, and he connected me with the City of Galveston Families, Children, and Youth Board (FCYB). I am now a member of FCYB and serve on the Education Task Force. I also connected on LinkedIn with a former postdoctoral fellow at UTMB who was a California Council on Science and Technology (CCST) Policy Fellow. I asked for an informational interview on science policy. She highlighted the need for more scientists to get involved in public policy decisions and fill scientific and technical gaps for policymakers. Following our meeting, I looked for science policy and advocacy activities I could participate in while doing my postdoctoral research work. Then, at SfN’s annual meeting in 2017, I met Michael Wells, a former SfN Early Career Policy Ambassador (ECPA). He invited me to the Advocacy Reception, where I met other ECPAs and learned more about the ECPA program. I then applied and was accepted. As a 2018 ECPA, I’ve learned how to advocate for science by highlighting why my research is important, the “deliverables” of my research work (drug discovery for psychiatric disorders), and the economic impact of NIH and NSF funding on Texas. At SfN’s 2018 Capitol Hill Day, I met with five Texas congressional offices, including the offices of Representative Pete Sessions and Representative John Culberson, and Senator John Cornyn’s office. When we visited them, we asked for an increase in NIH and NSF funding and a release of the Brain Initiative funds from the 21st Century Cures Act. Advocacy Activities in the Pipeline Community engagement. My lab is part of the Mental Health Research Group (MHRG) at UTMB. We’ll host an event called Science and Communities Interact (SCI) Café to engage the Galveston community on mental health and talk about our research. Campus visits by representatives. I’ve invited Representative Randy Weber of the Galveston District to visit our campus, including the Center for Addiction Research, Mitchell Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, and Mental Health Research Group. Proclamation of Mental Health Awareness Month. Through FCYB, I’m working to have our City Council set aside one month as Galveston Mental Health Awareness Month, as it is recognized nationally. I’m also partnering with several groups in Galveston, such as Teen Health Center and Causeway Galveston, which are improving the mental health of children, teens, and adults. Science editorials. I’m hoping to focus on publicizing scientific breakthroughs within the Galveston and Houston areas. I’m working with the Sigma Xi Galveston Chapter to create an online science communication platform for graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty to write short editorials on scientific topics, concerns, and discoveries. Interview science “rock stars” in the Galveston/Houston area. I’d like to create a podcast or website to ask experts questions and share answers. Advice to Become a Science Advocate Get involved on your campus, join a city board, invite a representative to your campus, and/or apply to programs such as SfN’s ECPA program. Also use some of the ideas I shared above as inspiration to see what similar opportunities are available in your local community. Oluwarotimi Folorunso, PhD Oluwarotimi (Timi) Folorunso is a postdoctoral fellow at The University of Texas Medical Branch. Link back to full article
  4. Amanda Labuza

    Hill Day

    Last Thursday SfN members gathered in Washington, D.C. to meet with almost 90 different legislators to advocate for science funding. SfN members included graduate students, senior faculty, and international industry representatives, all joined by the knowledge that if we don’t ask for increased science funding we will never receive it. image(3).jpg800×600 104 KB Our Hill Day started with training Wednesday night where I heard the best piece of advice from the whole event. Dan Smith, founder and president of AdvocacySmiths, said of his time working as staff for Senator Tom Harkin, “My best meetings were the ones with no follow up.” He could easily forget about whatever they asked for, because it was a one time issue. He stressed the importance of not just speaking with legislators, but following up with them. We reviewed what our groups would be asking for. All members were sending a unified message: to increase NIH funding by $2 billion for fiscal year 2018 and an additional $2 billion for fiscal year 2019, and to give NSF $8 billion dollars in 2018, $8.45 billion in 2019. We were also asking for the money allocated for BRIAN initiative to be released and for our budget to return to “regular order” instead of continued resolution. This would allow NIH to fully fund already awarded grants and know their budget for the year. IMG_20180308_145903_393.jpg1837×1837 295 KB As I started my group’s meeting with Ohio Senators and Representatives I tried to remember all the advice we had been given. Make a personal connection, be passionate, and remind them “We cannot afford to not afford this.” Our group talked about our current work. We discussed how neuroscience work will help fight the opioid epidemic in Ohio and how PTSD research helps veterans. @rredondo was even able to speak about NIH being the current diamond for basic science research that international industries depend on. My group met with 5 staff members, all of whom were very receptive. NIH funding is one of the few bipartisan issues left in today’s politics. We may not have had to fight anyone on this topic, but we did ask for what we needed. Even if someone is in favor, it is important to let them know what it is you need. If they are against it, use this as a time to educate them. I had a chance to meet with Stacy Barton in Rep. Steve J Chabot’s office. She had worked with SfN for 6 months previously and has a daughter with autism. Her life experiences taught her to value science funding, but we were able to provide her with the facts, figures, and stories to make her case to others. It is vital that we continue to advocate for this cause. image(1).jpg1600×1200 157 KB I encourage all of you to continue to advocate for NIH and NSF funding. If you were able to participate in the virtual Hill Day, great! Remember that one call is not enough. Follow up, thank them for their time, and remind them of their promises. Politicians work for YOU, the constituent. If you haven’t reached out yet, consider calling, emailing, tweeting, or visiting your representatives office. Find your representative here. And use the tools and resources SfN has provided for you here to make your case. Help your Congressmen help you. Thank you to everyone who spoke out last week! Our work is just beginning.
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