Federal funding for basic scientific research is essential for all kinds of reasons, and its benefits extend far beyond scientists themselves.
Research and discovery are pretty good on their own, but funding supports more than just research. The science and technology work that goes on in grad schools and labs across the country helps to create jobs. Without the NSF, there would be no Google (responsible for 24,000 jobs). Without DARPA, there would be no Internet (responsible for countless jobs). These jobs are no slouches, either, with the average high-tech worker in Silicon Valley earning over $100,000 in 2008.
Federal funding has been important for me, personally, as well. I would never have gone to grad school without federal funding. After accumulating a pile of loans during my undergrad years, further education was an option only if it was paid for. The NSF and DARPA supported my grad school research and the bevy of high-tech jobs in Silicon Valley drew me to California when I graduated.
There. Was that convincing? I hope so, because that’s what I pitched to Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s legislative aide when I was in Washington last week.
I was in D.C. as part of IEEE-USA, which partnered with other professional organizations to bring nearly 300 scientists and engineers to the nation’s capital for Science, Engineering, and Technology Congressional Visit Day.
CVD is a chance not only to advocate for science funding, but to do so with the support of IEEE, the world’s largest professional organization of engineers and technologists. Going into a meeting with the backing and support of 300,000 engineers (including 40,000 in my home state of California) gives you a lot more confidence—and gets more attention from congressional staffers—than doing it alone.
As it happened, we took these meetings the day before the government almost shut down. As strongly as I feel about science issues, they seemed a little less important that day, and I even felt a little sheepish advocating for money. The shutdown possibility loomed larged and seemed more important than the NSF and DoD research budgets.
Would the staffers we talked to even be at work the next week? Would they be too busy and distracted to even talk to us? Turns out, they were more focused than I could ever be in their shoes, and they gave us their full attention in every meeting. Now that is some professionalism. I was in awe.
Have you ever visited your representatives’ offices in Washington? What would you talk about if you had the chance?