On March 12 and 13, a group of 17 MIT students and postdocs traveled to Washington to sound a warning about the future of science and engineering research in the United States in the wake of cuts to federal programs.
The visit followed an array of budget cuts (known as “sequestration”) that took effect on March 1, cutting funds for basic scientific research and development. In meetings with 34 members of Congress from 11 states, members of the MIT delegation argued that those cuts — following flat funding in most recent years’ budgets — would decrease America’s ability to maintain economic growth and remain globally competitive.
The delegation of MIT students and postdocs — organized by MIT’s Science Policy Initiative (SPI) — joined more than 200 scientists and engineers taking part in the 18th annual “Science-Engineering-Technology Congressional Visits Day” (CVD). The CVD is sponsored by 33 academic societies, universities and trade associations, including MIT, that together represent more than 1 million researchers and professionals. This was the seventh consecutive year that a delegation from the Institute has participated in CVD; this year, MIT’s group represented the largest delegation of young researchers from a single organization, and included international researchers for the first time.
A key message of the delegation revolved around the positive economic impact from federally supported research and development. Some 25,600 currently active companies founded by MIT alumni employ about 3.3 million people and generate annual revenues of $2 trillion globally, together producing the equivalent of the 11th-largest economy in the world.
Jesse Jenkins, a graduate student in MIT’s Engineering Systems Division, the Technology and Policy Program and co-organizer of the delegation, noted: “Every 1 percent increase in national R&D increases GDP growth rate by 0.23 percent, or for every $1 taken out of federal R&D investments today, $2 will be added to the deficit over the next decade.”
As current recipients of federal research dollars and future innovators in the economy, the 17 young researchers warned Congress on the dangers of failing to prioritize these investments.
“It takes a considerable amount of time to train a scientist — from their graduate career on to becoming an independent academic researcher,” said Max Kaplan, a biology graduate student. “But turning the funding tap on and off does not simply set research back a few years. If cuts to basic research funding continue to occur, entire generations of scientists may be left to find alternative careers. Our country’s innovation ecosystem is a winning investment, but it requires significant and consistent federal funding to pay out.”
Events hosted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science connected the researchers with current and former congressional and White House staff, providing important educational opportunities for this year’s delegation. Bill Bonvillian, director of the MIT Washington Office, also hosted a morning session on science policymaking in Washington with the delegation.
The delegation will continue to advocate with elected representatives over the coming months as budget discussions continue.