Policy Corner: Young Researchers, Young Advocates Tell Their Stories; So Should You

This week’s Policy Corner features a letter from Mary Woolley, president and CEO of Research!America, of which ACSM is a member.

The primary race continues, and we continue our drive to put research on the primary agenda. Shortly before the New Hampshire primary, the Concord Monitor published a touching and timely op-ed by former Research!America intern Emily Norton. Sadly, Emily recently lost her mom to cancer. She tells her story and suggests what voters can do to make medical research a higher priority during the elections. Policy makers have the power to make medical research a higher priority – it us up to us to make sure they get the message! As the candidates stump in South Carolina for the upcoming primary, voters want to know where Romney, Santorum, Paul and Huntsman stand on health research issues. Urge them to respond to our voter education questionnaire (former Speaker Gingrich already has) and pen your own op-ed!

Dr. Kerri Mowen, a researcher at the Scripps Research Institute, is one researcher who is speaking out. A front-page San Diego Union-Tribune article, “Scientists on edge about future of NIH funding,” provides insight into the funding challenges facing science and researchers like Dr. Mowen. She tells the paper, “My colleagues and I wonder how biomedical science will survive. My students and postdocs wonder if there is going to be a future for them. I figured that we can either sit around being frustrated, or we can try to insure that the U.S.’s long-term investment in science is not wasted.” Dr. Mowen has started an online petition to boost NIH funding. Be sure to sign on if you haven’t already and share with your networks.

We can’t allow young researchers to become an endangered species. A majority of Americans, 73%, say the government should emphasize STEM careers for young Americans. And 77% of Americans say they are concerned that the U.S. is losing its global competitive edge in science, technology and innovation. Information like this, featured in our recent poll data summary and in my guest column in BIOtechNOW, demonstrates that Americans know the importance of science to our nation’s future and to the future of young scientists. Stakeholders in research can use our poll data to demonstrate to policy makers that Americans believe research and STEM education should be a higher priority for our nation.

This is especially important in the context of a recent study from the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, which found that the average age of researchers getting their first grant from NIH was 42 in 2008. The same study also found that Nobel Prize winners, on average, performed their groundbreaking research when they were 41. If we fail to provide robust support for young scientists, we may lose our best and brightest and the transformational discoveries they could make. Not to mention that we will not reap the health and economic benefits of Nobel-caliber science. This is the wrong message for young scientists and the wrong direction for America – we need to work together to make sure our policy makers get it right.