Advocating for Science at UC in DC

Oksenberg and Judson with Rep. Jim Costa

On May 21, Graduate Dean Elizabeth Watkins, Robert Judson, a former graduate student and current postdoc at UCSF, and graduate student Nir Oksenberg traveled to Washington DC to represent UCSF at “UC Day in DC,” an annual event organized by the University of California Washington Center. At this advocacy event, representatives from all ten UC campuses made the case for Congressional support for graduate research and education, and highlighted how federally-funded research conducted at UC and throughout the state fuels California and our nation's economy.

Judson and Oksenberg are both involved with the Science Policy Group at UCSF, a registered campus organization that advocates for greater public and political support for scientific education and research and provides avenues for UCSF students and postdocs to explore careers in science policy.

Said Oksenberg, “I was eager to go to UC in DC for a couple of reasons. First of all, I have never experienced first-hand politics in Washington. Secondly, I believe that there is a real need to educate our politicians about the state of science funding on a federal level.”

The team from UCSF met with legislative assistants to several members of Congress, including Nancy Pelosi, David Valado, and Michael Honda, and they met directly with Rep. Eric Swalwell, who represents the 15th District of California, and Jim Costa (pictured here with Oksenberg and Judson), who represents the 16th District.

“Our job was to quickly explain what our research is about, and how federal money is critical to the success of the research enterprise, which in turn is important for the scientific and non-scientific communities,” Oksenberg explained.

Judson said that the team had hoped to curb the effects of the sequestration on funding for science research and science education, but he felt there wasn’t much room for them to be effective on the issue. “The representatives we met with posed this question to us: What would we have them cut – out of an already very lean budget – in order to fund our research projects? But that was not an easy question to answer.” Still, Judson thought the visit was very useful. “It may have been too late to effect change in regard to the sequestration, but people were visibly excited about the student Science Policy Group and were genuinely interested in our activities. We set ourselves up as a valuable resource, and I think the potential is there for us to impact future decisions. For example, there is an open access bill coming up soon, and we had the opportunity during the visit to weigh in on that.”

Dean Watkins accompanied Judson and Oksenberg to their meetings in DC, but after making introductions, she encouraged the students to bring their own issues forward and give their own points of view. “Our visit was a fantastic learning experience for all of us,” said Watkins. “Our student representatives were articulate and engaging, showing off UCSF in the best light possible. I feel sure that UCSF graduates who choose a career path in science policy will have a far reaching and positive impact on the research enterprise even long after they leave UCSF, benefitting us all.”

Robert Judson is a recent graduate from UCSF’s Biomedical Sciences (BMS) program and currently a postdoc in Robert Blelloch’s lab in the Urology Department at UCSF. Nir Oksenberg is a BMS graduate student in his fifth year of study.

See also the February 13, 2013 article in Synapse by Judson and Oksenberg et. al on the impact of sequestration on biomedical research.

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Story by Jeannine Cuevas