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.

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.

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.

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.


Thank you for sharing this - I found this one key point very inspirational. Being in Canada - we scientist also depend on advocacy. I am planning to sit down with graduate students to discuss issues related to how can we do a better job providing facts that help our poticicians and policy makers. This key point - following up our meetings - was also something my Department Head suggested early on when I only thought about an open discussion forum. I would like to hear more on the practical behind this advice - if possible… other’s perspective is very useful in this matter. With many thanks, in advance…


I’m so happy to hear you will be helping with this! I know we try to provide numbers based on how much money we spend treating diseases, how many jobs NIH creates, etc. Personal stories are really helpful though. They make the human connection much better.

I think the open discussion forum is great! The follow up doesn’t have to be anything larger. But a simple email within the next week to say thank you, remind them the key points discussed, and provide them contact information is enough to help them remember that meeting. Then when a relevant bill comes up you can call or email and reference that first meeting. They’ll have notes on it on file, especially if you can remind them the date. Essentially, it means you don’t have to rehash everything, but remind them you have given them resources to fight for your cause.


@labuza thank you for this insightful post. I am sad we missed each other on this day as I was also advocating! I think the biggest take away for me was that there is serious bipartisan support for NIH, NSF, and BRAIN Initiative funding. It was a pleasant surprise for me.

I also loved that during the training, the panel spoke about the example of grassroots advocacy when it came to fighting for grad tuition to remain untaxed (and we won). So advocacy is something that should be instilled in ALL graduate neuroscience programs around the country. It matters!


Sorry I missed you @pizbicki but I’m glad you had a good time. It is amazing to see there is still bipartisan support for a few topics. Like one of the staff members said, “No one can be against sick kids.”


Could you clarify this? I understand it so that the salary of the grad students is not taxed? Or did you mean something different here?
It is great to have some concrete, practical fights won! This is one of those issues that relate to “what could we change locally, on the small scale to make a difference”. Thanks for sharing!


Right now your stipend is taxed, but the money you “receive” for tuition is not taxed. That’s because we don’t actually receive that money at all, it goes straight to the school. When the Trump administration was reforming the tax plan, the GOP had proposed a plan that would tax graduate students on both their stipend and their tuition. Not only would you be taxed on money that you never actually received, but depending on tuition at your college/university this “total income” could result in graduate students being in a higher tax bracket and having to pay a higher percentage of taxes as well. At several institutes graduate students would have had to pay almost half of their already low stipend to taxes.

Luckily, there was a ton of push back and students around the country called/emailed/tweeted their representatives and told them how awful this would be. The final draft of the tax plan had the tuition tax removed. It is an example of speaking up and having your voice heard. Thank goodness because I could not afford that tax!


@labuza I couldn’t have said it better! Thank you! :grinning: