Supporting Science Policy Advocacy and Outreach through Microgrants

October 31, 2018
Michaela Rikard
Ph.D. candidate in Biomedical Engineering, University of Virginia

The National Science Policy Network (NSPN) unites groups of early career scientists and engineers nationwide who want to elevate the voice of scientific evidence in policy. We champion the value of science and evidence-based decision-making and believe it is critical for scientists and engineers to step outside of the research lab and communicate the importance diverse perspectives in the policy process to the rest of the scientific community, policy makers, and the general public.

NSPN member groups engage in diverse outreach including seminars, workshops, movie nights, discussion groups, public outreach, registration drives, and conferences!  These events reflect hours of dedication, time lost from the lab, and are a primary way for academic communities to put on their other hat – informed citizens.

Despite this, they receive minimal support. Based on a national survey conducted by NSPN in early 2018, over half of these student-led science policy groups operate on meager budgets of less than $1,000 per year. Recognizing that small financial contributions can catalyze significant improvements in group productivity, NSPN recently launched a microgrant initiative to facilitate growth and sustainability of these science policy groups.

The Science Policy Initiative at the University of Virginia

NSPN received over 25 proposals for the first round of microgrant funding, and was able to provide awards to 7 of them. The review committee for this microgrant initiative consisted of several students from the NSPN leadership as well as 3 external reviewers including Kate Stoll (Senior Policy Advisor, MIT Washington Office), Mahlet Mesfin (Deputy Director, Center for Science Diplomacy at AAAS), and Bill Bonvillian (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). The review committee was impressed with the quality and creativity of all the proposals and ultimately the following groups were selected to receive funding:

  • Science Policy Initiative at the University of Virginia
  • Forum on Science Ethics and Policy (FOSEP) at the University of Colorado, Boulder
  • Penn Science Policy and Diplomacy Group (PSPDG) at the University of Pennsylvania
  • Science Policy and Advocacy at Rutgers University (SPAR)
  • Science Policy Initiative at Notre Dame
  • Emerging Leaders in Science Policy and Advocacy (ELISPA) at the University of Florida
  • Missouri Science and Technology (MOST) Policy Fellows at the University of Missouri

Penn Science Policy and Diplomacy Group (PSPDG) at the University of Pennsylvania

The proposals address key themes of professional development for early career scientists and engineers as well as advocacy opportunities to interact with policy makers and the public. Several groups proposed workshops to offer training in areas such a writing policy memos and op eds, writing skills that are essential in the world of science policy, but not a skill taught to graduate students. They also address gaps in training on science communication to a wide audience, and effective science advocacy. ELISPA at the University of Florida, for example, is planning a memo-writing workshop where students will learn how to write policy memos and practice by writing a memo on an issue relevant to their local community.

The winners selected from this competition will travel to the state capitol to present their ideas to policy makers for the state of Florida. FOSEP at the University of Colorado is tackling science communication by producing a series of podcasts that will encourage scientists and engineers to think critically about the intersection of their work with policy, ethics, justice, and diversity. The Science Policy Initiative at the University of Virginia is interested in advocating for state level science policy fellowships for STEM graduate students and postdocs in order to engage scientists and engineers at all levels of government, not simply the federal government.

We are excited about the potential impact of these proposals, both locally and nationally, and believe that this is an essential step to encouraging more scientists and engineers to take a seat at the policy table. NSPN will launch another round of applications for the microgrant initiative at their annual symposium at the Rockefeller University in November. If you have questions or are interested in sponsoring microgrants for student groups in future application cycles, please contact [email protected]

Michaela Rikard is a Ph.D. candidate in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Virginia. Her research as UVA focuses on cardiovascular disease and improving therapeutic options for wound healing following a myocardial infarction. Michaela is a co-founder and National Co-chair of the National Science Policy Network (NSPN). Launched earlier this year with support from Schmidt Futures, the NSPN is a rapidly growing network of over 60 campus-based student led science policy organizations, representing some of the largest and most prestigious research universities across the United States. She is passionate about changing the paradigm for graduate education and empowering scientists and engineers to be active participants in science policy.

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