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AWIS in Action! October 2012 - Hannah Carey
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AWIS In Action!

 Advocacy & Public Policy Newsletter   ~   October 2012
In This Issue
Of Squirrels and Senatorial Candidates
Life is a series of choices. You can choose to do nothing and watch as events unfold around you. Or you can stand up for what you believe in. In this time of financial crisis, as American markets are increasing reeling and swaying based on whether or not a Congressional resolution will be achievable, Hannah Carey, Ph.D., chose to get off the ropes and get into the ring. She graciously agreed to share her adventures with AWIS in Action! readers. 
Dr. Carey is a professor of veterinary medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who studies changes in liver and gastrointestinal systems of hibernating, thirteen-lined ground squirrels. She understands the value of communicating your work to the taxpayers who fund it and has on many previous instances spoken to civic groups, school kids, and senior groups. However, she had not previously engaged with politicians. Given the current fears about the potential fallout from going over the fiscal cliff, she decided to reach out to the candidates in Wisconsin for the open Senate seat and local Congressional districts. Conveying the importance of scientific research funding is imperative, not only for universities and their employees, but for jobs and the economy at large. Science is one of the places where taxpayers actually see a return on their investments, both in terms of therapies and technologies that improve their quality of life, but also in companies that start up out of these technologies and create jobs and pay taxes. Last year alone there were 671 startups out of universities, according to the Association of University Technology Managers, and 73% of those companies were started near the university, creating jobs and economic stimulus locally.
Like most people would be, she was initially unsure of what exactly to say but she developed a series of talking points. The most important one is that she is a constituent first, she votes people into or out of office, and a scientist second. Although initially it was somewhat intimidating, Dr. Carey wound up really enjoying the meetings and actually having fun. In one meeting, a candidate’s staff member mentioned a research project title from an abstract involving an atypical research animal that sounded frivolous. Dr. Carey was able to explain that that particular animal is a frequent vector for disease which can spread to humans, and thus studying that animal and the organisms that call that animal "home” is actually important to understanding and preventing epidemics. The key, she says, is to be earnest without being aggressive or condescending. She also invited the candidate to come tour her lab and see the facilities on campus.
In another instance, she and a colleague went to a "Pints and Politics” town hall meeting in southern Wisconsin, near the district from which Congressman Paul Ryan (whose draconian budget proposal would slash spending on scientific research by close to 20%) hails, hoping to meet a candidate from that district. Although the candidate failed to attend, Dr. Carey wound up meeting a group of other people interested in politics but not well acquainted with academic research. They were initially wary when she mentioned she works with squirrels (please recall those images of Congressman Ryan in hunting gear), but when she explained that she receives funding from the Department of Defense, their interest increased. Squirrels and other hibernating animals undergo a change in their physiology, producing an altered state, and the military is interested if there could be a benefit to soldiers in battle conditions.
Scientists and engineers are in a unique position when it comes to politics. Research is a non-partisan issue; both parties support it, both parties benefit from it. Additionally, unlike many other professions, scientists and engineers do what they love. Therefore, it should be easier for you than the average worker in almost any other field, dear reader, to get out there and talk about what you love. So make the choice. We recommend you choose to not be at the whim of politicians. Instead, help them understand why the research you do is at least as important as what the defense industry does and why everyone needs to chip in to help balance our federal budget.  In two weeks, AWIS will be launching a new proprietary tutorial to help you engage with your newly elected candidates through meetings, phone calls, letters, or local op-eds. 
In This Issue


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