Scientists Share Congressional Visits Day Experiences

10 May 2013
AGU Science Policy Alert 13-23

AGU members Professor Kim Cobb and recent Ph.D. graduate Karen Paczkowski each wrote an article in Eosdescribing their experiences attending Congressional Visit Days. Though they attended different events and had varying experiences, both found great value in establishing and continuing direct communication between scientists and policy-makers.

Professor Kim Cobb, a paleoclimatologist from Georgia Tech, attended the third annual Climate Science Day on Capitol Hill in February. Despite tempered expectations from prior experience visiting the Hill, Cobb found that meaningful conversations on climate science can happen in unexpected venues. Congressman Sanford Bishop (D-GA) happened to be in the seat next to her on her flight to Washington, D.C., and Cobb explains, “One has to appreciate the irony here: I’m flying to D. C. to meet with a legion of congressional staffers in the faint hope that one of them may put my name under their boss’s nose for 2 seconds, and as it turns out, a real‐life congressman is literally forced to sit down next to me for 2 hours. “ This conversation opened an ongoing communication channel, where Congressman Bishop offered to personally meet with undergraduate students who won Cobb’s “Carbon Reduction Challenge” when they visit Capitol Hill. Cobb believes in the long-term benefit of discussing climate science findings with policy makers, who have the public’s interests in mind, despite ideological differences. “Progress is measured slowly but steadily in a realm where human interactions and trust can trump scientific graphs” Cobb says, and she plans to attend the fourth annual Climate Science Day on Capitol Hill in 2014, where she will share her knowledge “with an easy smile and an open mind.” Shortly after her visit to D.C., Professor Cobb wrote an Eos article, detailing her experience.

Newly minted PhD student Karen Paczkowski participated in the Science, Engineering, and Technology (SET) Congressional Visits Day in March. This AGU co-sponsored two-day event aims to bring scientists, engineers, and SET advocates to Capitol Hill to explain the importance of federal funding for science and technology in the U.S. The event began with a training session on effective communication, and ultimately, led to small-group meetings with members of Congress and their staffs. Students, such as Paczkowski, can represent the intersection of research and education, and provide success stories of SET program funding. Paczkowski applied knowledge from her research to explain that understanding where earthquakes occur enables the building of earthquake-resistant buildings only where they are needed, which saves money. She also noted that the first research on plate tectonic theory was not funded for anticipated economic benefits, but rather, to gain an understanding of basic Earth processes. Paczkowski explained that federal funding of basic research has led to findings with great social and economic payoffs, even when the benefits are not immediately obvious. She believes that students embarking on careers in science “can use our energy and excitement about science to remind our legislators that science and its funding are important for the advancement of society and the education of its citizens.” Read more about Karen Paczkowski’s experience in her full Eosarticle.

Whether it is with hopes of catching your Congressperson’s ear on a flight, or getting your first experience in the policy arena, Congressional Visit Days provide an effective venue for communicating the importance of science to policy makers and the potential for unforeseen opportunities. AGU invites its members to Congressional Visit Days, policy briefings, and exhibitions throughout the year. If you would like to participate in these or any other congressional events with AGU, please contact AGU Public Affairs for information.