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By Tawanda W. Johnson | March 16, 2023
Anwesha Saha (second from left) and her team representing Michigan and Minnesota on Capitol Hill during Congressional Visits Day.
For doctoral student Anwesha Saha, scientists have a moral responsibility to share stories about their research with the general public. “It’s not enough to just sit in your lab and work on science,” Saha said. “We need to let people know how science affects them.”
Saha, who studies applied physics at the University of Michigan, was among 90 APS members who attended the 2023 APS Congressional Visits Day (CVD) on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., which took place in January as a part of the Society’s Annual Leadership Meeting. In about 100 meetings with lawmakers and staffers, attendees advocated for the Society’s science policy priorities.
Saha said she was motivated to participate in CVD — her first — after talking with professors at her university, who previously attended and had positive experiences. Many of APS’s science policy priorities are personal for Saha. Her lab’s federal funding has been inconsistent. And as an international student, Saha expressed her support for the Keep STEM Talent Act. If passed into law, the legislation would authorize international students pursuing advanced degrees to express “dual intent” and legally declare their plan to pursue STEM careers in the U.S. after graduation. The bill would also exempt students — specifically, international ones who earn advanced STEM degrees from U.S. institutions and receive job offers from U.S. companies — from green card caps, which limit the number of employment-based immigrants.
“I am so glad that I had this opportunity to address my concerns with members of Congress,” she said. “As an international student searching for internships, I often deal with ‘Oh, you’re not a citizen,’ limiting my job opportunities.”
“It’s a tricky issue,” she adds. “Many doors are closing, and I want to be able to stay in the U.S. to work.”
Saha praised the APS Government Affairs team for preparing the CVD volunteers. “The one-pagers containing background information about the science policy priorities were concise,” she said. “The training we received was also useful.” She did her own extra research on members of Congress, too, including searching their voting records and committee assignments.
Saha also learned the importance of incorporating personal anecdotes during her CVD meetings. For example, while advocating for funding for the Robert F. Noyce Scholarship, a program that helps STEM majors become K-12 teachers, she pointed out how the program can help improve the diversity of STEM teachers.
“I brought up the fact that low-income people often struggle to pay back student loans and need scholarships to help them achieve their career goals,” she said. “Data is important, but we should also make our stories personal.”
Chris Fryer, director of the Center for Nonlinear Studies at Los Alamos National Laboratory, participated in his first CVD three years ago. He said the experience has taught him that it’s important to connect science to larger issues impacting the country.
“There is a tendency of scientists to argue for science for science's sake, but I think we need to understand how science fits into the greater needs of the country,” he said.
Both Saha and Fryer said they would recommend that APS members participate in future CVDs.
“You will come out of it with a better understanding of how our government runs,” said Fryer. “I like to believe that I helped APS with its lobbying, but I think I gained much more in being a better advocate for science. I have a much better appreciation of Congress.”
Saha valued her CVD experience, too. “If you can effect change, you should do it,” she said. “It felt really good to do my small part.”
Tawanda W. Johnson is the Senior Public Relations Manager at APS.
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