15 September 2017

Connecting Science to Policy in New York

Posted by Shane Hanlon

By Arianna Varuolo-Clarke,  Claudia Hinrichs, Tara Dolan, & Kylie Langlois

 We are a group of graduate students from Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) that got to meet with congressional staff from our representative’s district office as part of AGU’s District Days. The meeting was organized by Dr. Kevin Reed, a professor of Atmospheric Science here at SoMAS, and we met with Legislative Assistant, Kevin Dowling of Representative Lee Zeldin (NY-1) district office. We are Arianna Varuolo-Clarke (Atmospheric Science), Claudia Hinrichs (Physical Oceanography), Kylie Langlois (Microbial Ecology), and Tara Dolan (Fisheries Science).

Prior to the meeting, Elizabeth Landau and Timia Crisp of the AGU science policy team, along with Dr. Reed, gave us a brilliant crash-course in how to effectively communicate with our district office. It even included a throwback to the Schoolhouse Rock’s “I’m just a bill” . One of the important things we learned is that the Representative’s staffers are your best friend: they are smart, often young, and highly informed individuals who run the show behind the scenes. Staffers have a lot of influence on the Representative’s position on key issues, agenda, and even specific talking points. We were ready to meet with Rep. Zeldin’s team and we had a message.

One purpose of the meeting was for us students to learn how to build a relationship with congressional staffers who work on issues of importance to science and our fields in particular. We as scientists can be an informational resource to the office. Dr. Reed explains science policy in two ways colloquially as “Science for Policy” or “Policy for Science”. When scientific information can be used to help our Representatives make informed decisions, this is “Science for Policy”. However, when the Representative as influence by their staff, can be our voice in Congress on issues important to scientists and communities in our district – that is an example of “Policy for Science”.

Part of the relationship building process is to introduce yourself to the staff and get to know each other. We each had the chance to give an “elevator pitch” of our research; a great way to practice distilling your message for a congressional audience. For example, Kylie Langlois studies microbial ecology using genomic tools, but she successfully related it back to improving clean water, property values, infrastructure and tourism in Rep. Zeldin’s district. Kevin was receptive and highly knowledgeable about several science topics. It was great to talk to him.

As graduate students in STEM fields, we’ve been thinking a lot recently about the future of science funding in America. All of us enjoy our research and we’d like to hold on to hope that we can get a job in our field of interest after graduation. Thus, in addition to building a relationship, a second purpose for the meeting was to advocate for continued science funding in FY2018 overall. We talked about increasing parity in funding across agencies as certain agencies are slated to take disproportionate cuts.

Overall, the meeting was an excellent learning opportunity and we are excited to keep this relationship going. The AGU Science Policy team was stellar in helping us prepare and we definitely feel that we can help make a difference.


This was a group post by graduate students Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. You can contact them via email: Arianna Varuolo-Clarke,  Claudia HinrichsTara Dolan, & Kylie Langlois