Advocacy Spotlight: Kristeena Ray Wright

ASBMB’s Advocate Spotlight highlights the efforts of science advocates to share the importance of biomedical research. If you know someone telling the story of science to legislators to advance science policy, email so that we can consider him or her.

Kristeena Ray Wright is a graduate student at Marshall University in Huntington, W.Va.

How did you become interested in advocating for science?

A few years ago, the biomedical sciences graduate program at Marshall WrightUniversity hosted Dr. Phyllis Frosst (of Johns Hopkins University) to talk to graduate students about potential careers outside of academia. Immediately, her role as an advocate for science and personalized medicine drew me in. I was very eager to get more information about how, as a graduate student, I could get involved. As is the case with many scientists, I have seen the effects of biomedical research funding cuts firsthand. Once I became a member of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, I was introduced to science policy and Hill Day. I started keeping up with a few policy blogs. I contacted West Virginia lawmakers regarding my concerns. After applying to the ASBMB’s Hill Day, I was offered a chance to advocate for science in June 2015 in Washington, D.C. And the rest is history…

Was there a particularly memorable experience you had advocating for
science on Hill Day or afterward?

Besides the overwhelming feeling from being on the Hill for the first time, meeting with U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, D-W.Va., and his staff was a pretty outstanding moment. As (he is) the representative of Marshall University’s district and a member of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, I was hoping for an open and productive meeting. Not only was the congressman available to speak with us personally, but he was very receptive to the idea of speaking to students on campus about policies affecting us and the role that we can play. He made it clear that he was aware of the problems that we are facing and showed his appreciation for students showing concern.

Tell us about your experience meeting with Jenkins at Marshall University.

After such a successful Hill Day experience, I was more than ready to take Jenkins up on his offer to visit Marshall to discuss science policy. Once I was in touch with the appropriate people at Marshall, they were ready and willing to make my idea come to fruition. On Nov. 20, Jenkins visited Marshall to speak with graduate and medical student researchers about our individual work as well as the impact of federal funding levels on our success as students. He was intrigued by the strength of research taking place in our laboratories. When we asked how we can better help him help us, he encouraged us to simply speak out about the impact of our research and the need for increased and more consistent funding. He suggested that increased exposure via simple conversations or at research conferences at all levels is a great way to start.

You recently gave a talk at your university to encourage others to engage as science advocates. Tell us about that.

I scheduled a seminar that was open to students and faculty to discuss the ins and outs of science policy: what it is, who is involved, why we should care. I was able to pull a lot of helpful information and tools from the Hill Day materials and advocacy toolkit offered by the ASBMB. I also mentioned some easy ways to stay abreast of the goings-on in science policy, such as checking sites like the ASBMB Policy Blotter and its Weekly Roundups. Many students didn’t realize that some of the topics discussed in that week’s roundup fell into the category of policy. I would like to think that the experience was eye-opening for those in attendance. Science policy is not just a career path, but rather an active conversation between research and the government, and there is room for everyone to participate.

Why is it important for graduate students/postdocs to engage in advocacy?

Graduate students and postdocs are on the front lines of biomedical research right now. Although we may not be the direct recipients of federal funding, we are greatly impacted by the ebb and flow of resources and can often feel the pressure experienced by our primary investigators. From my experience, graduate students and postdocs are extremely passionate about our research. It is important that our voices are heard, not just for the sake of our projects but also so that laboratories can continue to fund students and postdocs in the future.

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