Researcher advocates play crucial role in conversations about biomedical research funding

Update: Brittany Dugger, Ph.D., from the Banner Sun Health Research Institute in Sun City, Arizona was recently accepted to Research!America's Advocacy Academy. The Academy will give 12 postdoctoral researchers the opportunity to travel to Washington, DC and learn how to be effective advocates. Brittany presented her Parkinson's research at the 2013 PAN Forum. Congratulations, Brittany!


Over the last year, the health advocacy community has seen an increase in efforts to involve researchers in advocacy and outreach and the Parkinson’s Action Network (PAN) is no exception.  

Working at universities and other institutions across the country to find better treatments and cures for many diseases, including Parkinson’s, researchers bring a unique perspective and powerful voice to discussions with policymakers about continued federal funding of biomedical research. With sequestration severely impacting the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) ability to fund potentially groundbreaking research – meaning reduced support for existing projects and the rejection of over 700 new grant applications that may otherwise have been funded – innovation and the advancement of science have been stunted and the livelihood of many of our country’s best and brightest put in jeopardy. For these reasons, it is critically important that all stakeholders in biomedical research, especially researchers and clinicians, to take an active role in advocating for themselves and the disease communities they represent.

For our part, PAN introduced two programs in 2012 to bring researchers to the table for discussions about biomedical research funding and encourage their participation in advocacy, and we continue to make outreach to the scientific community a priority. At the 2012 PAN Forum, 17 postdoctoral researchers were invited to Washington, DC to present their research in Parkinson’s disease at the inaugural Postdoctoral Investigator Poster Session. Here, they were given the opportunity to discuss their research and interact with people living with Parkinson’s, industry, and other members of the public. As Forum participants, they also received valuable advocacy training and met with Members of Congress to discuss the policy priorities of the Parkinson’s community. In 2013, 18 postdocs were selected to display their work and attend the Forum, and four researchers presented their work at an additional session, the Parkinson’s Research Showcase.

PAN California Assistant State Director, Arthur G. Fitzmaurice, Ph.D., discusses his Parkinson’s research with an advocate during the Postdoctoral Investigator Poster Session at the 2013 PAN Forum.

The second program that PAN established was the Researcher Advocacy Prizes, awarded to three Parkinson’s researchers (one established, two early-career) for their outreach efforts at the annual Morris K. Udall Awards Dinner in October 2012. The prizes rewarded the researchers for their work in the community with the goal of inspiring other researchers to incorporate advocacy work into their research careers. Formal involvement of researchers in PAN’s grassroots advocacy program has tripled since the 2012 Udall Dinner, and we hope it will continue to grow.

PAN CEO Amy Comstock Rick (right) with the recipients of the 2012 Postdoctoral Advocacy Prize, Laurie H. Sanders, Ph.D. (left) and Elizabeth L. Stegemöller, Ph.D. (center).

Recently, other organizations have created programs to promote advocacy work within the scientific community. Research!America’s Advocacy Academy, a two-day event to be held in September, will give 12 postdoctoral researchers the opportunity to travel to Washington, DC and learn how to be effective advocates. Sessions include training on the federal budget and appropriations process, how to effectively communicate with others in the scientific community about advocacy, and more. 

“Our goal is to inspire early-career scientists to talk about their research and to make sure their voice is heard by policymakers who have the ability to prioritize federal funding for research. We will ask participants to spread the word to colleagues in order to amplify the message to policymakers not just here in Washington, but at the local level, that deep cuts to research are not in the nation’s best interest,” said Mike Coburn, Chief Operating Officer for Research!America. 

Brittany Dugger, Ph.D., from Arizona’s Banner Sun Health Research Institute has applied for the Academy and is anxiously awaiting a decision.  Dr. Dugger presented her Parkinson’s research at the 2013 PAN Forum and was a great asset to PAN’s grassroots leaders in meetings with Members of Congress.

PAN Arizona State Director Michael Greenbaum (left) and Dr. Brittany Dugger (right) discuss PAN’s policy priorities with Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) during the 2013 PAN Forum.

Given their unique position to make use of federal funding to find treatments and cures for devastating diseases like Parkinson’s, researchers bring an important perspective to conversations with policymakers about the need for continued funding of biomedical research.

Researchers interested in learning more about how to get involved in advocacy work with PAN should contact Elizabeth Kwasnik, Advocacy Manager, at [email protected] or 202-638-4101 x111.


Date originally posted: July 19, 2013.