Women Scientists Form a Policy Advocacy Network in the Mid-Atlantic

August 29, 2019 | 9:54 am
Kristen Gulino, Jewel Tomasula & JoEllen McBride

Many societal challenges are rooted in structural inefficiencies and inequities that require government solutions informed by science. Women experience burden and harm from inaction in distinct ways, but our voices are underrepresented in both the advocacy and policy processes. We believe women scientists have untapped potential to leverage their expertise and perspective and to connect with their elected officials to lead discussions about policies that impact their communities.

From our previous advocacy work as members of 500 Women Scientists, we’ve learned that many voices advocating together strengthens our message calling for positive institutional changes. This past spring, 500 Women Scientists leaders from DC, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York met in Philadelphia to coordinate policy messages that our chapters (called “pods”) can bring to their elected officials. Before the meeting, we virtually selected three focus issues: solving the climate crisis, ending harassment in STEM, and making higher education affordable.

Science & Social Justice Policy Workshop

We started our meeting with discussion with Kelly Morton, an organizer from Reclaim Philadelphia, a nonprofit organization that supports policies that fight for a vision of putting working people before the profits of corporations. Kelly shared her advocacy work in getting people to vote in their local elections and how Reclaim endorses city level candidates who have a platform centered on social justice. She went into detail about partnering with local organizations to support grassroots efforts in an inclusive way and how scientists can work together with groups already doing important work in our regions.

We spent most of the meeting doing policy communication training exercises from a “developing our pitch” exercise to drafting a policy brief for one of our focus issues. Julia from the DC Pod drew on her experience as a congressional staffer and led us through an exercise to practice meeting with policymakers to talk about climate change, harassment in STEM, or college affordability. We took notes on our discussions so we could create policy one-pagers about each issue.

From Training to Action

The Philadelphia pod has used the three policy one-pagers at meetings with local and federal representatives. So far they have met with staff from Senator Bob Casey’s office, Representative Brian Fitzpatrick’s office, and PA-74 Representative Dan Williams’ office. They met in person with Representative Chrissy Houlahan and PA-44 Senator Katie Muth. Many of the representatives expressed interest in hearing their take on other policy issues after seeing the one-pagers. In November, Senator Muth is hosting the Philly Pod for a lobbying day in Harrisburg!

The DC pod partnered with the Science Network to host a workshop in DC, modeled after the regional workshop. Although DC is seen as the center of policymaking, many scientists in DC work on fundamental science at universities or research institutions and are just as in need of policy training as scientists outside of DC. The DC pod is planning to make these workshops reoccurring and is developing a lobbying strategy.

The Ithaca Pod partnered with Cornell Graduate Women in Science to host a two-day workshop designed to engage and promote advocacy and policy change in their community. Participants engaged with multiple speakers on a variety of topics and worked together in groups to develop and plan community actions that leaders then continued to act on after the event.

The Buffalo pod had their first in-person meeting in spring, and they have been growing membership and planning action on climate change. Jess, who helped form the new Buffalo pod, shared “that workshop was a powerful introduction to the world of policy for me and some things I learned there have been helping me to pursue the idea of organizing a science policy workshop here in Buffalo.”

Our Favorite Resources

Resources from the Union of Concerned Scientists were essential to our policy education and action. Listed here are the advocacy guides we relied on:

Advocate with Us

The workshop has been a great starting point for getting pod members engaged in advocacy and encouraging them to effect policy change in their local communities. We encourage all scientists to get involved with local policy using the resources provided by UCS and connecting with local organizations in your area. 500 Women Scientists is a voluntary, grassroots organization – meaning that we welcome anyone committed to our mission to join a pod or start one. Check out the websites for Philadelphia pod, Ithaca pod, DC pod, and NYC pod to stay up to date with our advocacy efforts.

Kristen Gulino is a Ph.D. candidate in the Biology Department at New York University where she studies viruses and the microbiome. Outside of the lab, she is interested in science outreach and science policy. Twitter: @KristenGulino

Jewel Tomasula is an ecologist, environmental justice advocate, and graduate union organizer. She is a PhD candidate in the Biology Department at Georgetown University in DC. Twitter handle: @JewelTomasula

JoEllen McBride, PhD is a mom, former astrophysicist, and science writer with a PhD in Physics. She currently works as a Communications and Stewardship staff writer at Penn Medicine and loves talking, teaching, and writing about science. Twitter: @astrophyspunkin

The UCS Science Network is an inclusive community of more than 25,000 scientists, engineers, economists, and other experts, focused on changing the world for the better. The views expressed in Science Network posts are those of the authors alone.