GSPA 2023: Sharing Papers on Capitol Hill

In April 2023, 15 ESA members and graduate students in ecology participated in the first in-person Graduate Student Policy Award (GSPA) event since 2019. In this post, Sarah Rothman (University of Maryland) reflects on her experience participating in the program.

It was eye-opening to delve into the world of science policy and funding that makes my research possible. I’ve always been drawn to scientific research with implications for policy, but until a recent course during my doctorate at UMD, I hadn’t given as much thought to policy for science. Learning the details of the legislative process in our trainings was helpful, but actually visiting congressional offices on Capitol Hill was the real eye-opener. I felt privileged to meet with the offices of Rep. Ivey, Rep. Wexton, Sen. Van Hollen, Sen. Cardin, and Sen. Kaine, as well as encouraged by their interest and investment in ecological research. Granted, having ESA organize our meetings is what made the experience so easy and smooth (thank you, ESA staff!), but even after arriving I was surprised by how accessible speaking with policy-makers felt and struck by their enthusiasm—one staffer even asked me to send her a paper I had co-authored on inequitable patterns of West Nile virus infection rates in Baltimore mosquitoes! I was also inspired by the federal and non-profit scientists who met with us during our training to share their career paths and the way they leverage their research backgrounds to create real-world change. As I prepare to graduate in the coming year, it was especially throught-provoking to hear about their varied experiences, spanning many disciplines, agencies, and methods of arriving at their current positions. It was an honor to receive this opportunity alongside fourteen other passionate students from across the country, who I am looking forward to seeing again at the Annual Meeting in August and keeping in touch with throughout our careers.