Opinion

Opinion | Evan Kuras, Destenie Nock, and Avelino Amado

Budget cuts threaten the community work of graduate students

High school students identify aquatic invertebrates to assess the water quality of Abbey Brook in Springfield.

US Fish and Wildlife Service

High school students identify aquatic invertebrates to assess the water quality of Abbey Brook in Springfield.

Whether inside the lab or in the community, graduate students and their research will be affected by federal budget cuts in more ways than one.

Many federal agencies provide support for graduate students to conduct research. More importantly, these agencies often reward researchers for doing educational outreach. For example, the authors of this piece have worked with local schools and agencies to test water quality, model electricity usage, and teach anatomy. Working through the scientific process with real-life data and alongside real-life scientists can help K-12 students and citizens make better decisions throughout their lives. An informed public may push for cleaner water, cheaper electricity, and healthier neighborhoods. Pairing education with research ensures that benefits from science reach the communities where researchers live and work.

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Scientists like us genuinely want to share our work; we are often an untapped resource for communicating and expanding science within our communities. However, the structure of academia rewards academic publications rather than public presentations. That’s why we need federal agencies to fund scientific research and incentivize outreach activities at the same time.

But proposed funding cuts to federal agencies threaten the beneficial partnership between research and outreach.

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The recent White House budget proposal would cut research funding by 16.8 percent overall in FY 2018, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health will be cut by 11 percent and 22 percent, respectively. As Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey succinctly tweeted after the budget was announced, “#TrumpBudget will have a devastating impact on science, research, #cleanair & #climateaction.”

Congress must uphold its history of bipartisan support for scientific research and the outreach that comes with it. We applaud Rep. Jim McGovern and Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey for providing robust research funding in the recently passed 2017 appropriations, and urge them to fight for science research as they negotiate the 2018 budget. This funding would directly impact the ability for graduate students to take science out of the lab, and put into the community where people need it the most.

Federally funded science outreach positively impacts Massachusetts. One inspiring example is CityLab, a mobile state of the art biotechnology learning laboratory, operated out of the Boston University School of Medicine. The program travels to public schools in Boston that cannot afford to have their science labs updated. CityLab has provided hands-on experiences to more than 20,000 students since 1992 (one-third of them are underrepresented minorities and half are women, two populations desperately needed in science). Many of these lab experiences are provided by the 5 to 10 graduate students who work with CityLab each year. Since its inception, CityLab has received continual funding from the Science Education Partnership Award, an office supported by the National Institutes of Health. Recent funding has allowed CityLab to expand its efforts to teach young athletes how to collect and analyze physical activity data from activity monitors like Fitbits as they learn to play squash — an idea conceived by graduate students. This kind of research and outreach is beneficial for the community. Together, these activities can jumpstart young researchers’ careers, create new ideas and energy, and help solve difficult problems. If anything, we need more funding for these research and outreach programs, not less.

Evan Kuras is a master’s degree student in environmental conservation at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Destenie Nock is a PhD Candidate in industrial engineering at UMass Amherst. Avelino Amado is a PhD candidate in kinesiology at the UMass Amherst.
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