Use your Academic an Professional Societies as Advocacy Machines

In which @Scitrigrrl begs for your help to generate a list of questions about advocacy to ask candidates seeking election for Professional-society positions.

[Disclaimer: I’m focusing on Society for Neuroscience here because that is the organization with elections going on right now. But this is broadly true for all of our major academic professional societies.]

Advocacy is one of the main missions of almost all Academic and Professional societies – not just the sciences  (American Historical Association has News and Advocacy as it’s first link on the menu bar; Modern Language Association has advocacy right there under Resources; Association for Psychological Science includes it front and center in its missions statement…I could go on). Right now when we think of advocacy we think about lobbying for support from congress, but we should be thinking more broadly than that. Workforce issues, public policies, public education about research and research ethics, supporting and yes, advocating for underrepresented groups in the field, I could go on.

Society for Neuroscience (SfN) is a pretty hefty international scientific organization, with “nearly 40,000 members”. Their mission statement has 4 main points that can be summarized as:

Advocating for WHAT we research;

Advocating for inclusion of underrepresented groups;

Advocating for public education about science generally, neuroscience specifically, and ethical issues in science;

Advocating for continued political and financial support for research*.

Right now we have the annual election for councilors. As is usual- we have two outstanding neuroscientists on the docket for President: Eric Nestler, MD, PhD, and John (Jack) Byrne, PhD. The election winner will serve as President-elect through 2016, and then take over from Dr. Hollis Cline to be SFN President in 2017.  Both of these scientists – along with the other 6 scientists running for 3 other positions – have acheivements to make Bob Greybeard green with envy (or perhaps blustery with ego-bruise), and major service administrative chops to their name. But if we compare what is on their blurbs and CVs with the mission of SfN, something is missing.


I have no doubt that both of the current candidates for SfN president are able to do the job. But advocacy is such a big part of the mission of societies like SfN**, why do the statements from our candidates look like CVs for their next scientific position? There is obviously a list of questions/subtitles the candidates provided answers to, designed by scientists to include the kind of information we usually care most about. But where is the additional information specific to this particular position? Where is the information about their involvement, successes, goals and/or interest in advocacy work?

And why aren’t we asking louder for this information?

I’m not going to lecture (much***) about our role in this, or the current state of science (/social science/humanities/arts) funding*- mostly because someone beat me to it and did it better. Instead, I want to hear from you to crowdsource a list of questions YOU would like to ask candidates on ballots for Society-level counsellors and presidents.

And then I’m going to try***** to get answers from the SfN candidates.

Let’s build a bank of questions for people to use to ask of people going up for election in any position in any professional society. (And to get an idea of what we should be asking, because to be honest, if I knew, I’d be writing a list of questions to start you off).

So. What would you like to know about your scientific society’s future president*****? Please add them in the comments thread – I’ll update here as we go and write a later post with the whole list.


* It’s bad right now. Call your congress critter.

** Your professional societies are YOUR advocates. This is particularly true for funding. NIH are government employees. It’s illegal for NIH employees to lobby congress for money.

*** To be clear, I’m not actually blaming the candidates or the administrative arm of the societies for not providing this information. I’m blaming us – the society members and the vast majority of the scientific community – for our general lack of involvement and apathy. I mean show of hands here – how many of you have voted in your society’s elections in the last two years? How many of you have called your congress critter? Send an email or letter? Signed a petition?

**** AKA call on my vast network of tweeps to help me out here.

***** I was going to specify questions about advocacy roles, but then I remembered this guy and decided to leave it broad.

8 thoughts on “Use your Academic an Professional Societies as Advocacy Machines

  1. You’re nicer than I am. These positions are clearly ‘feathers in the cap’ based on what candidates are asked to present.

    I’d like to know ** two specific new things ** each candidate would initiate at the national level that would undertake in their role as advocates.

  2. It’s interesting that those SfN bios don’t even say anything about their vision for the society. At least my preferred professional organization has that (at least for top leadership roles). Things I look for in those visions are language about diversifying our field. Maybe that’s not advocacy but it’s better than nothing.

  3. What have you done to promote diversity in your program? What is your favorite outreach program that you have participated in, and why?

  4. What do you think the Society’s role is in supporting the new generation of scientists?
    Which programs will you initiate to better fill this role?

  5. Does SfN have a large lobbying presence in Washington? I know for the American Chemical Society, the presidents may not have had a huge roll in Washington before they are elected, but there is a huge presence already there and the employeees of ACS play the larger role in “advocacy”

    • Yes, SfN does too. And sure, the nuts and bolts are going to be taken care of by staffers and not the President or Council.
      But do you think that means it doesn’t matter? That interest in or goals for advocacy (broadly speaking – it doesn’t have to be financial, but we focus on that right now: see footnote 1) are irrelevant?
      The president has a platform. Wouldn’t it be great if there was someone who wanted to – and COULD – use that platform to drive forward some programs of interest?

  6. Mayhaps this needs to be a follow up with the candidates who win (which is tragic) because I just saw the election closes June 3rd.

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