Are gene-edited crops safe? How can we best address climate change? What emerging areas of research are most in need of funding? Development of constructive policy depends on effective communication between scientists and government decision makers.
Morgan Carter, graduate student in the SIPS Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology Section is taking on this challenge by learning strategies and skills for science advocacy. Carter and three other Cornell students attended the spring 2018 “Catalyzing Advocacy in Science and Engineering” (CASE) program sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to hear speakers discuss science policy, career paths in advocacy, and strategies for effective engagement.
“It’s really important to know when and how to use your voice”, Carter commented. Using examples of the recent Farm Bill and policy proposals on gene editing and GMO-labeling, she added, “People may not realize it, but every comment submitted during open comment periods gets read by staffers working on these bills”. Understanding one’s audience and their motivations is also critical to effective communication. “People’s decisions are often more values-based than fact-based so it’s important to find where you have shared values.”
Carter who is in her 4th year of graduate school researching plant pathogen virulence proteins in the program of Adam Bogdanove, plans to continue her advocacy as she pursues a career in academic research. Communication avenues she envisions include serving as an outside expert at hearings on government policy as well as science outreach to audiences like her home town in rural North Carolina.
Carter’s participation in CASE was supported by Cornell’s Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training (BEST) program, whose mission is to provide PhD students and postdocs the chance to test-drive specific aspects of various careers through flexible, experiential, empowering opportunities and by Cornell’s Office of Inclusion and Student Engagement (OISE) which supports scholar success through recruitment, diversity fellowships, professional and community development programming. This is Carter’s third advocacy trip to the capital, having previously participated in events sponsored by the Cornell Advancing Science and Policy association and Cornell in DC.