By Sarah Hiyari 2014-15 AADR Gert Quigley Fellow
Over the summer, I spent six weeks in Washington, DC serving as the AADR Gert Quigley fellow. My time in DC was spent attending hearings, observing bill mark-ups that authorize agency activities or provide funding for government agencies, meeting with congressional staff to discuss oral and craniofacial research, visiting the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, and attending meetings held by various health coalitions.
My educational background is set firmly in science. I have pursued research from my undergraduate days until now, working on a Ph.D. in oral biology at UCLA. Yet, I have been pretty divorced from the intricate roles that Congress plays in providing, promoting and furthering science in America. We all feel the side effects of congressional policy and funding outcomes: limited money for research projects, the high pressures to constantly produce top quality manuscripts, publish or perish, and the ever daunting fact that the average age to receive an R01 is around 40 (yikes!), but I never knew the congressional process that takes place. For some reason I just assumed that because I understood science’s importance for basic discovery, benefiting health care, and establishing America as a leading nation, that everyone else should see and understand its benefit too.
You would be hard pressed to find a member of Congress state outright that they do not support science in America however; I have seen that the true benefits of scientific discoveries are not effectively translated, in a way that nonscientists (i.e. members of Congress) can understand. That’s where we come in as scientists. It’s not only our job to investigate and perform great research; we have to be vocal about it, because if we don’t do it, who will?
Being in D.C. and on the hill, I have also observed how issues that may seem unrelated to science can have a huge effect on funding for research. This summer, a number of issues surfaced including the Unaccompanied Alien Children (UACs) crossing the U.S. border, the wildfires on the west coast and the veteran’s health issues, to name a few. While these issues seem to be in a completely separate realm from science, they require financial action from Congress and in a climate where money is sparse, it’s inevitable that other programs get financially squeezed.
While many of these issues are out of our control, one thing I’ve learned from being on Capitol Hill is how much we can advocate for continued scientific research, and dental and craniofacial research in particular. These advocacy activities, such as meeting with members of Congress, sending action alerts and letters of support start with us, as students, and are actually pretty easy to do. Getting involved early with organizations advocating on behalf of oral health such as AADR gives us a voice and a resource of like-minded colleagues and together, we can all make a difference.
I look forward to continuing my work as the Gert Quigley Fellow this year as an active member of the AADR Government Affairs Committee and the AADR National Student Research Group. If you want to become more involved in AADR advocacy, please contact Director of Government Affairs Carolyn Mullen at email@example.com.