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Community Live Chat with Michael Heintz, SfN Advocacy Director


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Join the Live Chat August 10th at 12:00 p.m. EDT


Time spent on applying for grants is on the rise, and many SfN members have also expressed uncertainty about the future of neuroscience funding in the United States. On August 10, from 12:00 - 1:00 p.m. EDT, Michael Heintz, SfN’s director of advocacy, will host a live chat in the Neuronline Community to answer members’ questions regarding the federal budget and its potential impact on NIH and NSF grants.

During the live chat, Michael and his team will also answer member questions related to SfN’s advocacy efforts and the best approaches members can take for communicating with elected officials.

Members are encouraged to submit questions for Michael (@mheintz) in advance of the live chat in the discussion thread below.


Facilitator:

Michael Heintz, Director of Advocacy, Society for Neuroscience
Michael Heintz is the Director of Advocacy at the Society for Neuroscience. He previously was a program manager with the Maryland Energy Administration and Association of Public Health Laboratories, and before that practiced law in Ohio. He received his undergraduate degree in Environmental Science from Purdue University and his JD and MS in environmental science from Indiana University.

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  • 3 weeks later...

While the SFN is located in the USA it’s membership reflects the world wide significance of neuroscience. Attending the SFN meetings is a financial challenge for persons and particular students. I was wondering if there are partnerships among governments with SFN that would allow more financial support. Also it would be rewarding to see persons outside the USA receives awards for their research . Maybe special rewards could be set up for recognition of graduate work in Latin America, Caribbean and other areas.
Getting grants funded is almost next to impossible as well if one is outside the USA.
Also I tried to start up a chapter in the West Indies but the regulations for membership hindered my being able to do so. To start a new chapter, follow these guidelines:
Submit a Chapter Petition Form signed by 10 Regular or Emeritus SfN members in the same geographic region. We don’t have 10 regular members in the West Indies where I live so therefore this has had a negative effect on our being able to start a chapter. I tried to get permission to start a chapter with a lower number but apparently this is not possible or is it?
Thank you look forward to the Community Chat on August 10th

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Hi, @Jaadeja. Thank you for your post. I will be in touch with you shortly at the primary email address associated with your account to share some information regarding awards that are available through SfN and to discuss your question regarding setting up a SfN chapter.

Kelsey King
Professional Development Manager, SfN

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Hi, I can’t make it to the discussion next week but one topic to consider is indirect costs. Two problems - one is the potential threat from the Trump administration to cut indirect costs, which would have a very negative impact on academic research institutions. It is good that SfN and many others have spoken out forcefully on this. But a related issue is that as federal budgets are squeezed, many researchers are looking to foundations and other philanthropic sources of funding, but most foundations place stringent limits on indirect costs, generally much lower than the federal rates. For small grants it doesn’t matter much because universities can often absorb the under-recovery, but for bigger grants it’s a real problem. How can the science advocacy community convince philanthropic foundations (especially the bigger ones) that indirect costs are real costs that must be paid for somehow? Perhaps my question is even more general - should we as a community be expanding our definition of ‘advocacy’ to include a greater focus on foundations and other non-government funding sources? Thanks for your thoughts!

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It’s great that this live chat is happening!

One concern is the relative dearth of direct statements or actions by SfN on behalf of their members. Many SfN members that pay membership dues cannot talk to Congress directly as they are federal employees… thus, they’d like to see their membership dues go towards funding direct action on SfN’s part on Capitol Hill. Most SfN advocacy is limited to grassroots campaigns, fundamentally putting the onus for advocacy on members themselves (some of whom are not allowed to participate) which does not feel to many as the best use off membership dues.

What are SfN’s plans for expanding their direct action advocacy in this (as is stated above) uncertain future of neuroscience funding?

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shannon_farris

How does SfN support local chapters engaged in advocacy activities? and what types of support are available?

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shannon_farris

Hi @Hgerstein, I wanted to provide a quick comment to your post as I have experience with this. If you have a local SfN chapter, you can use that as your affiliation when engaging with Congress. Alternatively, you can talk to Congress as a private citizen about the importance of your research and sustained NIH/NFS funding without petitioning for a specific dollar amount. To be on the safe side, it is always good to clear activities with your ethics office if there is any doubt.

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Michael Heintz

Hi everyone! Thanks for joining us! The entire SfN Advocacy Team is gathered to answer your questions, so start sending them in! I see there are some good ones already, and we’ll get to those first. We’ll get rolling at the top of the hour.

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Michael Heintz

This is a great question. Congressional offices realize that individual visits represent roughly 100-150 constituents in the district. On our recent webinar (http://neuronline.sfn.org/Articles/Outreach/2017/How-to-Engage-Your-Members-of-Congress), SfN advocate Brenda Bloodgood had a really good answer to this question and emphasized that you shouldn’t make the decision for the office to not hear from you. Go in, be heard!

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I am interested in ideas on how to approach getting the general population involved in science advocacy and caring about the future of science funding. I find I often post something about the budget or about the good of science to social media but only my science friends respond/ understand the importance. Others either do not care or think you are just pushing for your own job. I try and explain how science is good for everyone but some just do not buy it/think it is all about you. So ideas on how to engage non-scientists in caring about the science budget and how science can help all would be great! Thanks!

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monica_linden

When I was in school, I don’t feel like I received any instruction on science advocacy. What (and how) should we be teaching our undergraduate and graduate students about advocacy so that science advocacy becomes a natural part of their lives as scientists?

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Michael Heintz

Hi @kra213! Getting the public involved is critically important! The first place I would refer people is www.brainfacts.org for general, publicly available information on neuroscience and the great research that is happening. By getting people excited about the science, they are more likely to engage with their representatives on science’s behalf. It’s also important to stress that biomedical research impacts everyone. Neuroscientists are trying to address thousands of diseases and disorders around the world. By making these discoveries, everyone’s health benefits.

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Michael Heintz

In our experience, the best way to get people involved in advocacy is to just get them to do it once. By lowering the bar to entry, people get hooked and they want to do it again and again. Take them to a meeting and they’ll get the fever!

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Here is my question: I am from Boston. Lobbying with my representatives doesn’t seem like high impact because they are already on board about supporting science. It would seem that lobbying to representatives from other states would also be low impact because I’m not from their state. Thoughts?

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Michael Heintz

Thanks Hilary, you raise an important distinction between what SfN members can do as constituents to raise the issue of supporting neuroscience with what SfN is doing on behalf of all members. I should mention two very important members of the Advocacy Team at SfN. First, CeCe Grant (@cgrant) is our Federal Advocacy Manager, and she is busy building relationships with targeted Congressional offices who have influence over federal research issues. She is frequently on Capitol Hill having meetings, both individually and in conjunction with our coalition partners, about the importance of neuroscience from a broad perspective. In addition, we’ve increased our direct outreach to Congressional appropriators in the form of letters and resources from SfN Leadership. This includes not only our advocacy positioning, but also sending materials to legislative aides so SfN can position itself as a resource to these offices (like research advancements, the importance of facilities and administrative cost reimbursement, the travel restrictions, and budget cuts). Concurrently, our Grassroots Advocacy Specialist, Adam Katz (@akatz) , is working directly with SfN members who want to get more involved in advocacy to help alleviate some of the “onus” you raise and provide them the tools and resources to advocate effectively. Both CeCe and Adam can be reached through our advocacy@sfn.org email account

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Michael Heintz

This is something we hear a lot @bwolozin. Supporting our champions is just as important as talking to those who may be undecided. People like Senator Warren who are hugely supportive of biomedical research need to know their efforts are helping those doing the work. And by supporting our friends, they can be positioned to help educate their colleagues who may be on the fence, or maybe don’t understand the importance of the issue and research.

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On a related note- is there a consideration of an effort from SFN to work closely with advocates who live in areas where their congressperson is a key pivotal figure?

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Michael Heintz

Thanks @shannon_farris! Chapters are a great opportunity to collaborate and show Congressional offices multiple people supporting neuroscience. For example, by coordinating with your chapter you can easily show the breadth of career spans from senior researchers to students and the importance of long-term support of scientific research. These are also good forums to bring elected officials in to talk to clearly defined groups (unlike a broader town hall). Look into SfN’s Chapter Grants as a way to conduct your advocacy activities. Advocacy projects proposed under those grants are absolutely eligible for funding. For more information on the Chapters Grant, contact chapters@sfn.org.

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Michael Heintz

Thanks @charlesj, this is a really important issue that has people worried. I’ll note at the outset that in the current NIH funding bill, the House forcefully rejected the President’s proposals regarding F&A reimbursement caps. We will continue to work with our partners at the Association of American Universities (AAU) and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) on raising the importance of F&A costs with Congress. We have some resources from those partners that we can distribute. Contact us afterwards if you’re interested.

With regards to approaching foundations and other non-governmental funders, the core message is largely the same as it is with governmental sources. That is, the same explanations we use for F&A with Congress—that it supports the lights, water, administrative support, etc., should be no less important for other funders. Although our fact sheets and related resources are designed for a policymaker audience, first and foremost, the messaging is certainly applicable to other “decision-makers.” To be clear, SfN’s role is with federal policymakers, but the message can certainly be taken to other outlets by the broader community.

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I really like this question! I am currently a graduate student and part of our graduate student organization is an advocacy outreach committee. However, we are just winging it on our own so more instruction and ideas would be helpful. We often find ourselves rushing to put an event together while trying to fit it in between experiments.

One fun thing we do every year is a bio-fair for a local middle school. We have students go to 10 different station, each where they do a different experiment or learn a different topic based upon our research. It gets them to meet a real scientists and see what science is about. A few do get excited and talk about how they want to learn more. It is starting to get some kids young involved in science!! And most are surprised that we are “normal people”. So it makes science relate-able

However, ideas on how to engage congress, universities, etc would be wonderful!

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Submitted question:

In terms of science advocacy what can I do as a post-baccalaureate researcher or graduate student that truly has a meaningful positive impact?

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Michael Heintz

Why, actually yes! Our Grassroots Advocacy Specialist, @akatz, is working in strategically important districts to generate a community of advocates. While this is a new effort, it is one we hope to expand in the coming months as we get traction. This is a long-term effort that we hope will result in a network of neuroscience advocates across the country. Adam may have more to add here.

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Do you advise conducting an advocacy meeting with a US Rep any differently than one with a Senator (both liberal Dems)? Would you emphasize different aspects of science, or of the process of science funding?

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If you are a voting constituent, then your voice as a graduate student or early career scientist is important to hear. Just because you’re a younger member of the community doesn’t mean you have any less of a vote. Most likely, the staff you will be meeting with are around your age – meaning they can connect with you in talking about your challenges as an early career researcher and the importance of NIH and NSF grants in funding the next generation of scientists.

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Michael Heintz

@will3, your message shouldn’t be changing as between offices. Neuroscience is non-partisan (which helps, because no one is really against it). What I would recommend is, do some research into the individual office you’re meeting with to see if they have some specfic interests. For example, have they been touched by Alzheimer’s Disease or Parkinson’s Disease? Do they have a military base in their district that may cause an increased interest in PTSD? You can then tailor your discussion to reach them on an specific issue they care about.

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Michael Heintz

Yes! The members of the SfN Committee on Animals in Research (CAR) have been working to help promote the positive, proactive communication about the value of animal research. We believe the key is to be open and up front about the value and oversight associated with animal research. That in addition to scientists taking their responsibility for the care of these animals very seriously, there is also stringent oversight and regulatory control associated with animal research.

We have some materials on our website, https://www.sfn.org/advocacy/animals-in-research, and I would also recommend you check out Americans for Medical Progress. They do a lot of public outreach and education around animals in biomedical research.

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Michael Heintz

Global advocacy is critically important to understand the collaborative nature of neuroscience (especially in today’s current environment). Colleagues who aren’t US citizens can engage in two very important ways. For those working in the United States, you can work with citizens who are also advocating to show the importance of global collaboration in science. If you are outside of the US, I recommend you contact your national society (or FENS or IBRO) to see how you can get involved in your home nation in the most effective ways.

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Working with regional advocates and their networks on the ground, SfN is developing a national coalition of advocacy leaders in districts and states where it is important for neuroscientists to have a loud voice at critical moments in the legislative process. Additionally, we are working to help, as @mheintz mentioned in response to an earlier question from @monica_linden, lower the bar to entry for new advocates to get involved in the process. It’s an exciting approach and we’re starting to see results from this program.

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Submitted question

How to get it started properly? I expect to get a chance for one to two sentences with a busy politician. With most meetings lasting 10-30 minutes how do I catch their attention within that small window?

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As a graduate student, I would like to start a student led advocacy group. Do you have any advice for keeping the group well organized and accessible enough to pass on information to other students when I graduate? I’m interested in creating a framework that will last.

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Michael Heintz

@RDHendrix, nothing like posing an easy question!! What you’ve touched on is one of the biggest challenges we face in the advocacy world–keeping people engaged. The key is to find the balance between their “real lives” and their advocacy work such that they don’t get overwhelmed. Keep the asks manageable, and more importantly keep them excited. We can follow-up after the chat with an introduction to some student groups who have gotten traction in this regard.

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Michael Heintz

Your elevator speech is critically important in the limited time window you correctly note. You want to highlight two pieces in order to get their attention: (we mentioned this earlier) make it personal so that your audience can relate, and show them it’s important to you so that, as your elected representative, it should be important to them. Use plain language – not science-speak – and always be sure to relate your points to how it may impact the district (for instance, job prospects, economic impacts, or visibility of the region). @cgrant may have some additional thoughts as well.

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Question submitted by email:

When meeting with a congressional office, do you recommend tailoring your talk differently depending upon whether you are meeting with a Congressional staff member or the Congress person, themself?

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Michael Heintz

This is in the same spirit as the difference between the House and the Senate–your message shouldn’t change. In fact, you’re likely to get into more detail with a staffer than a member. The members rely on their staff to be the subject-matter experts on their portfolios of responsibility. As a result they are likely to get more into the weeds. We’ve even started seeing PhDs on staff in Congress, and the conversations we can have about the scientific advancements are a lot of fun!

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Echoing @mheintz, even though politicians are busy, they care about what is going on in their district. Make sure you let them know you are a constituent and what impact your research/NIH funding/etc. has on the local economy or in people’s lives. Approach this as a win-win conversation: You have something important to share with the Congressman and he has something to offer you – namely, his/her support.

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Submitted question:

What are the most important messages that SfN members can be sharing with Members of Congress if they see them at town hall meetings or at their offices?

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IanMcLaughlin

We have a science policy group at our institution, and we organize visits to the Hill yearly. We’re thinking that it might be prudent to prepare to organize one when the legislature begins shifting gears towards a tax bill. Are you aware of any large coordination of similar policy groups to interact with our legislators - and, are there folks at SfN that can facilitate advocacy meetings with legislators?

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Michael Heintz

Not to be too blunt but: neuroscience research saves lives. Talk about your science and its potential impact on critical issues of the day such as Alzheimer’s, mental health, addiction, chronic pain, and the 1000s of diseases and disorders that afflict people all over the world. Questions you could ask, if given the opportunity at a town hall, could include: What are you willing to do to ensure there is adequate funding for biomedical and neuroscience research in an era of budget caps?
What are you doing to ensure parity between defense and non-defense spending under the Budget Control Act? Is Congress going to allow our nations investment in biomedical and neuroscience research backslide?

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Michael Heintz

We can certainly help with neuroscience related materials if you think that would be helpful. We don’t engage on the issue of tax reform. We have heard that the debate on tax reform will start in the next few weeks.

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IanMcLaughlin

Understood - I really should have said federal spending bill rather than tax. The advocacy is solely around funding for science, to be clear.

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I think a seminar or article on “what makes a good elevator talk” would be great! We practice in our lab meetings but I find that when I am in the moment where I need, I still stumble upon the words! Maybe a suggested layout or examples?

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