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GLOBES Trainees Travel to Washington DC as part of Policy Training Module


Twelve University of Notre Dame GLOBES/IGERT trainees traveled to Washington, D.C., during fall break 2009 for a hands-on lesson in communicating research to non-scientific audiences.

The trip was a critical part of the curriculum of this ground-breaking, interdisciplinary Ph.D. training program in which teams of student scholars, faculty, and researchers from throughout the University’s College of Science, College of Arts and Letters, and Law School work together to seek innovative solutions to interrelated problems of infectious disease, invasive species, and environmental degradation. The program is funded by an IGERT training grant from the National Science Foundation.

Led by GLOBES faculty advisors David Lodge and Jason McLachlan, the students visited Congress, listened in on committee hearings and debates, and met with leaders and scientists in federal agencies, the private sector, and conservation organizations who work in the world of Washington politics. The trip culminated in meetings between the students and members of Congress. Those visits gave the GLOBES trainees an opportunity to discuss their individual research interests and how Congress might help to advance solutions to ecological and health problems. Participants also met with journalists from the Associated Press and Science News to get their take on how the media influences the policy world.

Says Gilbert Saint Jean, a fourth-year GLOBES trainee who studies disease control in the developing world, “On the one hand, the trip demonstrated to me how different the world of Washington is from our world of scientific research; on the other, I learned that our policymakers care deeply about the same issues we do and that they are eager for information from scientists and the general public.”

Preparation for the Washington DC trip began in September with an introductory webinar conducted by professional trainers from COMPASS (Communications Partnership for Science and the Sea). The webinar was followed by a two-day, on campus workshop that focused on learning to articulate general science to policymakers, the press, and the public. Students learned about the day-to-day life of policymakers and how they use science resources in making decisions on issues of national concern. Specific assignments included crafting a one-page “leave behind” that presents research in a concise and meaningful way and creating a business card (a necessity for effective DC follow-ups). Readings and discussions addressed how scientists can be involved in national policy dialogues while role playing sessions gave students practice and tips on how to give effective “expert testimony.”

Address Goals

The Policy Training Module is a key component of the communications training espoused by the GLOBES program. The program’s goals are to develop and nurture citizen-scientists who are prepared to be leaders at the nexus of science research and society. The training provides valuable opportunities to discuss the role of scientists in making policy and management decisions on environmental and human health issues of national and global importance. A critical piece of that training is learning how national policy is made, how Congress and the committee process works, and what to expect in the unique political culture of the nation’s capital. The training included invited guest experts from the district congressional legislative staff as well as professional communications consultants who have direct experience and knowledge of the Washington DC policy world.