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My First ‘Stint’ at Advocacy: Assumptions Versus Reality

By Anishkumar Soman, OSA Student Member


In 2017 B.C. (Before COVID), I got my first opportunity to visit the U.S. Capitol  (yes, an actual visit, not a virtual one!) on behalf of OSA to represent the state of Delaware (USA) in meetings with congressional staff. I was initially hesitant to participate in this opportunity. As a doctoral student, most things outside your area of research are challenging and even more so when you are preparing to talk to the most influential people in your state!

Caption: U.S. Capitol Hill Visit in 2017 with U.S. Representative Lisa Rochester’s (DE) Office

Credit: Anishkumar Soman

Though I was nervous and a bit intimidated, advocacy is something I have always wanted to engage in. I work in the field of solar energy and I strongly feel that to advance progress in renewables both researchers and policy makers must work collaboratively. Even the best technology needs wise policy to guide its use. So, I held my nerves and decided to give it a shot—after all, I am deeply passionate about advocating for science.

Before the Congressional Visit, I prepared myself by speaking with my advisor and fellow researchers from the University of Delaware to incorporate their opinions into my talking points.

My first appointment was with Senator Tom Carper’s office. As I stepped into the beautiful Capitol Hill building, I was both excited and nervous. I wondered what the staff would ask me and hoped I would be able to communicate the message effectively. However, as soon as I started speaking with Sen. Carper’s staff, a loud siren started wailing! The staff told me it was a fire drill and kindly escorted us to the nearest assembly point. My heart was pounding, and I thought the conversation was over before it even started.

Surprisingly, the staff and I talked business as we walked and continued to do so even amidst so many people. They were inquisitive about the research happening in their constituency and took note of our recommendations to support projects in photonics and photovoltaics by continuing to support investments in R&D.

Next, we visited Senator Chris Coons’ and Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester’s offices. Their staff members were similarly supportive, acknowledged our funding concerns and offered support for our work to develop low-cost, high-efficiency, industrially viable solar cells. Their cordial and encouraging approach made me realize they were willing to support science for a better future and take as much interest in research and development as we scientists do.

Caption: U.S. Capitol Hill Visit  held virtually in 2020 with U.S. Senator Chris Coons (DE) Office

Credit: Anishkumar Soman

This positive experience motivated me to participate again in a virtual Capitol Hill visit and to actively advocate for photonics during the pandemic. The staffers empathized with the disruption to research caused by COVID-19 and extended their support to the Research Investment to Spark the Economy Act (RISE) and the Supporting Early-Career Researchers Act. We also encouraged them to join the Congressional Optics and Photonics Caucus, which they were happy to consider.

I am grateful to OSA for giving me the opportunity to represent Delaware for two successive years (2020 and 2021) as a group leader. To be the voice of the research community in my state and bridge the gap between researchers and legislators is something I will always cherish in my career.

I am so glad I took the leap of faith to overcome that ‘initial barrier to advocacy’ as a researcher, or I would have missed the wonderful opportunity to do my bit supporting science today for a better tomorrow

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Posted: 26 July 2021 by Anishkumar Soman, OSA Student Member | with 0 comments

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