AAAS “CASE” Workshop Reflections by Adalyn Fyhrie

Each year CSTPR hosts a competition to send two CU Boulder students to Washington, DC to attend the AAAS “Catalyzing Advocacy in Science and Engineering” workshop.

During the workshop portion, the winners learned about the structure and organization of Congress, the federal budget and appropriations processes, and tools for effective science communication and civic engagement. In addition, the winners participated in interactive seminars about policy-making and communication.

Below are comments by Adalyn Fyhrie about this year’s workshop.

I reached the end of two and a half days invigorated, inspired, and exhausted. I left with more questions than I had arrived with, which I took as a sign of the intensity and breadth of knowledge that I had been exposed to. The CASE workshop provided discussions with an impressive lineup of experts in the field of science policy, from members of Congress to employees of national science agencies. Each moment and every speaker was an opportunity to crack the world of science policy open and I was not about to let that chance go to waste.

I was impressed to learn about the breadth of science policy that is present in our nation’s capitol. For starters, “science policy” has different definitions — there is science for policy (using science to make policy decisions that are backed by scientific facts) and policy for science (making policy that provides scientific funding and support for research and development). The CASE workshop focused on policy for science, how it is made, and how to advocate for it.

The workshop also exposed me to the wide variety of people who contribute to policy for science. Going in, I knew that members of Congress were important to science policy (they are the ones making the policies, after all), but the CASE workshop demonstrated that they are just the tip of the iceberg. Among many other contributors, there are also scientists who are employed to provide reports and briefings on science-related matters for members of government, employees of national science agencies, and scientists who come for a single day to advocate for science funding. During the CASE workshop I fit into the final category (scientist/advocate), but I had a lot of learning to do before I felt ready to meet with our members of Congress and their staff on the final day of the workshop.

In order to effectively advocate for policy for science, we had to first understand how policy is made and the essence of the mechanics of government. The two biggest takeaways for me were: first, that government doesn’t work the way it appears to in the news or during election time (it is, in general, much less partisan). Second, that governance is much more emotional than logical (stories can be more effective than facts). Honestly, these were counterintuitive to me, especially the importance of stories instead of facts in getting policy to pass. Many scientists (and I am no exception) want to solve problems with logic and facts, but this is not the most effective way to advocate for science and science funding to Congress. People respond to stories, and that is what we had to deliver.

I started the workshop with a tenuous idea of what science policy was and how one could get involved with it as a career. By the last day, I was meeting with members of Congress and their staff and requesting continued funding of the sciences in the upcoming budget. The CASE workshop gave me confidence in my abilities as a science advocate and insight into the myriad of career options in science policy.

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