When graduate students advocate: Psychological science on the Hill
Until recently, I didn’t have much exposure to the role public policy plays in research funding. As a grant-funded graduate student, it’s easy to devote every ounce of attention to my research rather than the funding and policy that allow it to take place. That is, until I was invited by the American Psychological Association (APA) to participate in the Rally for Medical Research in Washington, D.C. to advocate for increased government funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
I am a graduate student in the Department of Psychological Science at the University of Arkansas researching factors that make adolescents more likely to develop anxiety-related problems, and targeting those factors for psychological intervention. My project, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, explores whether a brief preventive intervention program can reduce anxiety vulnerability in at-risk adolescents.
I was thrilled to get a glimpse into the world of federal funding for research and to see the different factors that affect the amount of money allocated and the number of research projects funded each year. The night before the Rally, I was also pleased to hear Dr. Francis Collins and several members of Congress speak to the value of NIH funding.
My excitement quickly turned to nerves when it was time to meet with members of Congress and their staff on Hill Day. I was fortunate to have a veteran team leader to guide our Arkansas group through meetings with Arkansas Congressmen Rep. Steve Womack, Rep. French Hill, Sen. John Boozman, and Sen. Tom Cotton, who each graciously set aside time for us to present our stories about the importance of NIH-funded research. My nerves quickly settled and I enjoyed the opportunity to advocate on behalf of psychological science. The meetings were an excellent opportunity for me to articulate my research and “asks” in a straightforward, non-jargon fashion. Representative Womack was even kind enough to take our team on a tour of the Capitol, including a visit to the Speaker’s balcony!
The Rally for Medical Research was an eye-opening experience for me, particularly the diversity of disciplines supported by NIH funding. I am incredibly honored that APA included me in the Rally activities on the Hill, and I was thrilled to be an advocate on behalf of psychological science.