What Local Science Advocacy Looks Like

Meeting with Representative John Culberson at SfN's Capitol Hill Day 2018.

Why I Advocate for Science

In the Galveston community, I’ve seen a need to increase scientific curiosity among local K-12 students and communicate my research and that of others at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in exciting new ways. 

My experiences with various science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) outreach programs through UTMB’s Office of Educational Outreach and the SfN Galveston Chapter’s brain fair activities have led me to seek out even more opportunities to make a broader impact.

For example, I’m a member of the planning committee for the Galveston County Science and Engineering Fair (GCSEF) and the Committee in Support of Science Education, which selects high school students to participate in UTMB’s Biomedical Research Training for High School Students Program. Additionally, I’m involved with STEM summer camps for 8th and 9th graders.

How Networking Led to New Opportunities

When I searched online for science education volunteer opportunities at the city level, I realized one of the Galveston Independent School District (GISD) Board of Trustees members is a faculty member at UTMB. I reached out to him, and he connected me with the City of Galveston Families, Children, and Youth Board (FCYB). I am now a member of FCYB and serve on the Education Task Force.

I also connected on LinkedIn with a former postdoctoral fellow at UTMB who was a California Council on Science and Technology (CCST) Policy Fellow. I asked for an informational interview on science policy.

She highlighted the need for more scientists to get involved in public policy decisions and fill scientific and technical gaps for policymakers. Following our meeting, I looked for science policy and advocacy activities I could participate in while doing my postdoctoral research work.

Then, at SfN’s annual meeting in 2017, I met Michael Wells, a former SfN Early Career Policy Ambassador (ECPA). He invited me to the Advocacy Reception, where I met other ECPAs and learned more about the ECPA program. I then applied and was accepted.

As a 2018 ECPA, I’ve learned how to advocate for science by highlighting why my research is important, the “deliverables” of my research work (drug discovery for psychiatric disorders), and the economic impact of NIH and NSF funding on Texas.

At SfN’s 2018 Capitol Hill Day, I met with five Texas congressional offices, including the offices of Representative Pete Sessions and Representative John Culberson, and Senator John Cornyn’s office. When we visited them, we asked for an increase in NIH and NSF funding and a release of the Brain Initiative funds from the 21st Century Cures Act.

Advocacy Activities in the Pipeline

  • Community engagement. My lab is part of the Mental Health Research Group (MHRG) at UTMB. We’ll host an event called Science and Communities Interact (SCI) Café to engage the Galveston community on mental health and talk about our research.
  • Campus visits by representatives. I’ve invited Representative Randy Weber of the Galveston District to visit our campus, including the Center for Addiction Research, Mitchell Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, and Mental Health Research Group.
  • Proclamation of Mental Health Awareness Month. Through FCYB, I’m working to have our City Council set aside one month as Galveston Mental Health Awareness Month, as it is recognized nationally. I’m also partnering with several groups in Galveston, such as Teen Health Center and Causeway Galveston, which are improving the mental health of children, teens, and adults.
  • Science editorials. I’m hoping to focus on publicizing scientific breakthroughs within the Galveston and Houston areas. I’m working with the Sigma Xi Galveston Chapter to create an online science communication platform for graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty to write short editorials on scientific topics, concerns, and discoveries.
  • Interview science “rock stars” in the Galveston/Houston area. I’d like to create a podcast or website to ask experts questions and share answers.

Advice to Become a Science Advocate

Get involved on your campus, join a city board, invite a representative to your campus, and/or apply to programs such as SfN’s ECPA program. Also use some of the ideas I shared above as inspiration to see what similar opportunities are available in your local community.

Timi Folorunso
Oluwarotimi (Timi) Folorunso is a postdoctoral fellow at The University of Texas Medical Branch.

Sparking Global Conversations Around Neuroscience