Updated: Apr 1, 2020
Yesterday, MSU SciComm held a virtual panel with Dr. Dru Montri, the director of government and stakeholder relations in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and Dr. Robert Richardson, a professor of Community Sustainability. Our science policy chair, Vanessa Garcia Polanco, led the session. Her questions to the panel and summarized versions of their answers are below.
Vanessa Garcia Polanco: What is public service to you as a scientist?
Dr. Dru Montri responded that public service is making contributions to the public good. She noted that those contributions don’t have to be governmental contributions; they can be community efforts or work with nonprofits. Dr. Robert Richardson echoed this point of view, adding that as scientists at a public-land grant institution, public service as a scientist means sharing our work with the community.
VGP: Can you recall how you heard about it, the board of commission? What inspired to apply or seek nomination? Tell us about that process.
Both Dr. Montri and Dr. Richardson had first learned of the commissions they serve on through colleagues. Dr. Richardson was nominated by a colleague to the Environmental Protection Agency Board of Scientific Counselors while Dr. Montri self-nominated at the advice of governmental officials.
VGP: Can you share with us what your board/commission is/does and what you did /do while in this appointment?
Dr. Montri serves on the Michigan Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development which recommends policy on food, agricultural, and rural development issues. One of the commissions roles is to develop and approve Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices (GAAMPs), which are scientifically based farm management practices.
Dr. Richardson served on the Environmental Protection Agency Board of Scientific Counselors, which advises the EPA on research and development. One of their roles is to write specific, actionable recommendations to the EPA based on their research.
VGP: What has been the hardest lesson you learn in this role so far?
Dr. Montri said one of the hardest lessons to learn is that there are various reasonable viewpoints, complex realities, and external pressures that need to be taken into account and there might not be a single correct policy. Dr. Richardson said that the hardest lesson for him was accepting that change happens very slowly and there are often multiple layers of bureaucracy to navigate.
VGP: Robbie, you are an upcoming Jefferson Science Fellow, a program hosted by US DOS and USAID to contribute to foreign policy or international development issues. Tell us about this upcoming experience?
Dr. Richardson described this program as an opportunity for the government to bring in scholars from universities to provide recent advances in STEM to impact policies. These assignments are one year in length with either the Department of State or USAID. He said he is hoping to learn more about the role of science in government and provide his experience to help with policy.
VGP: Dru, in your role as the Director of Government and Stakeholder Relations at CANR you are constantly bringing elected officials to campus to show them the value of research. What recommendation do you have to better communicate research and its importance to policy makers?
Dr. Montri said the most important thing to keep in mind is that legislators are people and you need to build relationships with them. You want to learn what their priorities and motivations are and you want them to see you as a reliable and responsive contact.
For students, this can mean attending town halls, committee hearings, or calling, emailing or scheduling visits with your representatives.
Finally, don’t forget about the legislative staff. Building relationships with the staff is just as important as building relationships with the legislator.
VGP: What recommendations do you have for young scientists, scholars and students to get more involved where science and policy intersect?
Dr. Richardson suggested that students can write op-eds or opinion pieces for their local or hometown newspapers. He also pushed for getting involved in advocacy work and considering joining organizations that work in science policy such as AAAS. He said to remember that if you are in a graduate program, you are a researcher with expertise you can contribute to policy discussions.
Dr. Montri echoed these points, also saying that getting involved can happen through non-profits and student groups. When advocating, she suggested making it clear who you are speaking as. Are you speaking on behalf of the university, an organization, or as a concerned citizen?
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