June 8, 2017

MIT Student Policy Group Shines on Capitol Hill

Posted by bwebster

Editor’s Note: The following guest blog is written by Tiziana Smith, a PhD student in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at MIT and a graduate of the MIT Technology and Policy Master’s Program.

MIT students ready for their meetings in DC! (Photo Credit: Sungil Kim)

When I attended the AGU conference last fall for the first time, I knew from the beginning that I wanted to attend as many science communication and science policy events as possible.  At these events, I was inspired by the scientists and researchers sharing their passion for science and speaking up about the importance of Earth science. I was especially inspired by current and former AGU Congressional Science Fellows. Hearing about the unique perspectives that they brought to Capitol Hill as scientists made me curious about how we as scientists can engage more with policy. I signed up for the AGU Science Policy Alerts and kept a look out for opportunities to become more active in science policy and Earth science funding advocacy.

In the spring semester, I found the perfect opportunity to get my feet wet by joining the 2017 MIT Science Policy Initiative (SPI) delegation to the Science-Engineering-Technology Congressional Visits Day (SET-CVD) in April. MIT SPI students and postdocs have participated in this annual Congressional Visit Day for 11 years with the help of the MIT Washington office.

This year, our group of twenty four MIT students focused on advocating for increases in science funding for the fiscal year (FY) 2017 budget. Each of us came from different departments at MIT, and we each advocated for the agencies and programs that we know best.  As a hydrologist, I was proud to advocate for Earth science funding, especially for the NASA Earth science missions. I research the impacts of agricultural land use change on hydrology, and NASA Earth science data is critical for my work.

: Meetings with members of Congress from the Texas delegation. One of the things I enjoyed the most was sampling local snacks at some of the congressional offices – including Dr. Pepper from my home state!

Thanks to training developed by my fellow students in SPI, I was well-prepared for my first experience advocating on Capitol Hill. We worked together to schedule meetings with our representatives’ offices, preparing talking points and leave-behind summaries, and following up with congressional staff. I met with nine congressional offices in all, including the three members of Congress that represent my home district in Texas – Congressman Lamar Smith, Senator Ted Cruz, and Senator John Cornyn. A few congressional staffers even asked me about my research, and I was happy to tell them about what I do and what it is like to be a Ph.D. student.

Through this experience, I gained a much better understanding of how policy decisions about science are made in Congress. Every staffer that I met was polite and appreciative that we were taking the time to express our views to our representatives as scientists and as citizens. It was also a great opportunity to practice talking about science and my research to non-scientific audiences.

I encourage all of my fellow US-based AGU members, especially my fellow students, to seek out opportunities like the Congressional Visits Day to advocate for the Earth and space sciences. Having the support of my fellow students during meetings also made the trip much more fun and interesting, so if you can find a buddy or join an AGU Congressional Visit Day, all the better!

You can learn more about the MIT SPI 2017 Congressional Visit Days in our Press Release, and if you’re interested in learning more about SPI or starting your own initiative at your home university, contact SPI here. After the release of the latest FY2018 budget proposal, which again proposes large cuts to science funding, our work is cut out for us. We as scientists must continue to advocate for the funding that sustains our education and our research.