APS News

May 2021 (Volume 30, Number 5)

Commentary: Staying the Course in Science Policy Advocacy during COVID

By Raju Prasad Ghimire

Last year proved to be an extremely difficult year for people around the world for myriad reasons, including a global health pandemic that has negatively impacted millions of lives and led to a struggling economy, as well as racial unrest following the death of George Floyd and other Black Americans. And sadly, anti-Asian racist crimes are also on the rise.

These are tough, but necessary issues to deal with, and I understand that they will not be immediately solved. Still, I choose to remain hopeful about the future. And one way I plan to make a difference is by remaining active in science policy to enable my voice and many others to be heard on crucial issues that are important to the physics community.

In 2017, I got involved in science policy by volunteering with the APS Forum for Early Career Scientists (FECS). As a secretary/treasurer of FECS, I participated in both the APS Annual Leadership Meeting and APS Congressional Visits Day for two consecutive years. During those events, I learned that members of Congress are eager to hear from scientists whose technical expertise plays important roles in shaping federal policy. In 2019, I joined the APS Forum on Graduate Student Affairs (FGSA), serving as secretary and mainly focusing on helping international students.

Specifically, that fall, I was instrumental in working with APS Government Affairs (APS GA) and APS International Affairs on a survey of international students’ concerns regarding visa and immigration policies. The survey revealed that 32% of international students who chose not to come to the US believe the country is “unwelcoming to foreigners.” Unfortunately, those revelations don’t bode well for many academic institutions that are confronting decreased enrollments among international students. I was elated, however, to help support APS GA’s efforts to advocate for international students by writing to my members of Congress in support of visa and immigration policy changes designed to help the United States attract and retain talented international STEM students.

Ghimire policy op-ed

Raju Prasad Ghimire

Besides grappling with policies that didn’t help them, international students, just like the rest of the world, had to deal with COVID-19, which sent their lives into a tailspin. Students experienced disruptions to research programs, struggled financially to make ends meet, and confronted physical and mental health crises. To do my part to help with these issues, I was eager to lend my voice to a campaign that APS GA sponsored to enable graduate students and postdocs to continue to receive compensation from federal grants during the pandemic. I’m also grateful to my advisor Mehran Tehrani for his unending support throughout such a difficult time.

Although the world continues to deal with the pandemic, new vaccines offer hope—a virtue that attracted me to America. Hope was also instilled within me as I grew up in the small town of Damak, Nepal: I am a proud, first-generation college student. But I don’t just care about my own success. I want everyone to succeed, and that’s why I started an international high school in my hometown with a focus on scientific education. In 2015, I came to America with the hope of broadening my knowledge by obtaining a PhD in science and engineering.

Three years later, I earned my master’s degree in electrical engineering at South Dakota State University. Currently, I’m working on my PhD in nanoscience and microsystem engineering through a collaboration with the University of New Mexico and the University of Texas at Austin. My research project focuses on advanced electrical conductors, and the overarching goal is to develop ultra-conductive materials to alleviate energy losses in electrical transmission and conversion. Further, my work involves understanding materials science. As I think about why most Americans should care about my research, I would tell them that it could lead to more efficient electrical devices and vehicles.

Speaking up about the importance of research is a key part of advocacy for me. I realize that not every person is an expert in science, and I do not take it lightly that taxpayer dollars are funding my research. Therefore, it is crucial that I not only advocate for research funding, but I must also be willing to tell members of Congress, my neighbor, and anybody else who is interested why science is important.

I can’t underscore enough how helpful the APS GA staff have been in preparing me and so many other APS members to be successful in our advocacy efforts. For example, during Congressional Visits Day (CVD), the APS GA staff trained volunteers using video sessions; developed one-pager issue briefs to ensure members of Congress understood the policy issues we were advocating for; and provided opportunities for volunteers to share experiences during debriefing sessions that followed our meetings on Capitol Hill. Don’t hesitate to let your voices be heard on the issues that matter most to our community. If you are unable to participate in CVD or similar APS activities, you can still make a difference by visiting APS GA’s Action Center to start your advocacy journey.

Raju Ghimire, former Secretary (2019-2020) of the APS Forum on Graduate Students, is working on his PhD in nanoscience and microsystem engineering through a collaboration with the University of New Mexico and the University of Texas at Austin.

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Editor: David Voss
Staff Science Writer: Leah Poffenberger
Contributing Correspondents: Sophia Chen, Alaina G. Levine

May 2021 (Volume 30, Number 5)

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Articles in this Issue
APS Honors Members for Outstanding Science Policy Advocacy
What is it Like Being a Data Scientist?
2021 Kavli Foundation Special Symposium Tackles the Frontiers of Computation
New Laser Testing Approach Detects Coronavirus in Minutes
Neil Ashcroft 1938-2021
2021 PhysTEC Conference Talks Teacher Training Online
Programming Matter to do a Computer's Job
Commentary: Staying the Course in Science Policy Advocacy during COVID
This Month in Physics History
FYI: Science Policy News from AIP
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