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Community Live Chat with Michael Heintz, SfN Advocacy Director


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Michael Heintz

It sounds simple, but it’s really just a matter of reaching out and extending the invitation. Making your elected official aware of the important (and fascinating) work you do is the first step. If you are at an institution with a government relations office, be sure to touch base with them or your PI in advance so they aren’t surprised by a Congressional visit. Our Grassroots Advocacy Specialist, @akatz , may have additional thoughts to provide. And, we can help with suggested invitation language and helping you find the right point of contact.

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Submitted question:

I work for a privately funded research institute. It seems like these contacts would need to be approved by our leadership. What is typical for initiating this type of contact. And what role is there for scientists at a non-NIH funded institute?

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Michael Heintz

We do some of this for sure! Check out some of the resources on Neuronline to see what we’ve done in the past, like https://neuronline.sfn.org/Articles/Outreach/2016/Thinking-on-Your-Feet-Tailoring-Your-Elevator-Speech. We have some of these housed on Neuronline. And when it comes to a smooth delivery: practice, practice, practice. We given our Hill Day attendees time to practice their elevator pitches with their groups, and there’s no substitute for rehearsal.

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Michael Heintz

Every institution is different, and yes, many may require leadership approval before inviting a member of Congress or staff into your lab. If you are interested in a lab tour, be sure to check with them first. However, as a private citizen, it is your right to petition your government. You may need to conduct these activities “on your own time” or not mention your employer-affiliation (as many federal government employees must do), but all citizens can communicate as they wish with their elected officials.

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This is a question we get often. As @mheintz said, it’s a matter of reaching out and extending the invitation. If you contact us at advocacy@sfn.org, we’re happy to provide information for the Members of Congress that you’re trying to engage. There are certain recesses throughout the year that you’re more likely to have success in getting the actual Member of Congress to your institution (namely the August Recess and other longer ones throughout the year). While it’s important to remember to involve your government relations office (and perhaps your public relations office as well), don’t forget that it’s also a productive use of your time and energy to provide tours to Congressional Staff. We’re here to help before, during and after the tour as needed.

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Michael Heintz

Yes, we have a number of materials on our website, like fact sheets for NH, NSF, and state specific information that is freely available to use. On September 13-14, a coalition partner of ours, the American Association for Cancer Research, is hosting the Rally for Medical Research. This is a cross-disciplinary effort (not just cancer) to bring the importance of research funding to Capitol Hill. I believe they are still taking registrations. You can find more information here: http://rallyformedicalresearch.org/.

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StephanieReginaMiller

Hi! I’m a graduate student and an intramural trainee at NIH living in Washington DC.

Question 1: Are there advantages/disadvantages for researchers working in federal research settings (e.g. NIH) when it comes to advocacy?

Question 2: Do you know if there a regular meeting of advocacy-minded neuroscience folks in the DC metro area? Even a happy hour would be welcome.

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Submitted question

What is the expected timeline and number of communications when following up (as I assume it is different than following up with someone in the academic sphere)?

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Michael Heintz

We’re going to answer your second question first: there is a group called the group Engaging Engineers and Scientists in Policy (ESEP) which is hosted by AAAS (https://www.aaas.org/esep). They host regular get togethers and have a list serve that may help you get more connected, especially in DC. The DC SfN Chapter also has a neruo-policy affinity group. Check with them for more details.

As to your first question, the biggest advantage is also your disadvantage–working for a federal facility. You can’t engage in advocacy as an employee of NIH, but have a front row look at how federal policy and funding impacts research. They way around this is to advocate on your own time without affiliating yourself with NIH, many researchers do this frequently.

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Submitted question

There are so many issues that I want to advocate for – how do you balance advocacy within the rest of your life?

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Great question @aabdullah. Congressional offices are very busy, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to hear from you. Once you’ve submitted a request for a meeting (or a lab tour), it is perfectly acceptable to send a follow-up email if you don’t hear back from them after a couple of weeks. Most offices prefer email meeting requests; however you may call them if there is a tight timeline (i.e. there is an upcoming vote on a bill).

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Michael Heintz

Advocacy is definitely something that can be all consuming and the intensity on the Hill is high. You need to find the right balance that works for you that both allows you to engage and take part in the system, without burning yourself out or ignoring your other responsibilities. Advocacy is something you can do at any time or place. It can be in-person in DC or in district offices, or it can be electronic via social media or email. You can engage during business hours or after hours. Find what works for you and jump in. You can always adjust later if you can take on more or need to back down.

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Michael Heintz

Thanks everyone for all the great questions. If we didn’t get to a question you had, or you thought of something else, feel free to contact us at advocacy@sfn.org. Good luck with you efforts! Don’t hesitate to reach out if we can help and definitely tell us about your successes!

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