Science Advocacy: Data Collection

Gathering information about career and training opportunities

Professionals working for advocacy groups work to change existing systems and infrastructure for the benefit of one or more group of stakeholders. Data collection is essential for effective, evidence-based advocacy. Such data is used to sway stakeholder opinion, to identify policies that require revision, and to develop recommendations for systemic change.

The non-profit organization Future of Research (FoR) is an advocacy organization that seeks to improve graduate student and postdoctoral biomedical training, creating a more sustainable scientific workforce. To achieve these goals, they are working to collect robust career outcome data, improve transparency around employment contracts, and provide resources for individuals to advocate for change at their own institutions. By completing this simulation you will contribute directly to the efforts of FoR.

You can read more about the work of FoR at http://futureofresearch.org.

Overview of the Advocacy Process:
  1. Choose a focus area - a set of policies or aspects that you wish to investigate.
  2. Determine the criteria by which you will research and gather data.
    1. Go to the funding organization’s website and search for information.
    2. Create table of information
  3. Collect data. If necessary, reach out to individuals at an organization for additional information to fill in missing information.
  4. Collect and display this information as a resource.
    1. Create an advocacy fact sheet. This may serve as another place to work on your specific topic of interest.
    2. Use social media, and mention the resource in general communications and blog posts, to spread awareness of the tool and to solicit feedback, in particular information that is missing or useful ways of presenting/searching the data.

NOTE: FoR will create the database. As this is a nationwide effort, we don’t want to duplicate efforts. Before starting on the task please contact Adriana Bankston (abankston81@gmail.com) to agree on the fellowship that you will research.

Collect data on graduate and postdoctoral training fellowships to assist in populating a database. Create a fact sheet on fellowships and the institutional policy for disbursing the fellowship.

For this exercise, you are an intern at an advocacy group like FoR, and want to gather data on a specific topic of interest for junior scientists. You will perform Step 3.

Example: You apply for a fellowship and when you receive it, you might lose benefits. Does your institution have a mechanism in place to help ensure equal access to benefits regardless of the  [specific] fellowship?

Identify fellowship opportunities for junior scientists

Current institutional practices around setting of pay scales, handling of fellowship support, and setting of benefits, vary drastically. For example, some fellowships require the award holder to give up health or other benefits. For this task, you will investigate a specific fellowship opportunity, determining stipend level, benefits and eligibility requirements. You will then look at how such a fellowship is handled at your university, and at one or more additional institutions. The goal is to collect sufficient data to enable comparison of trainee support across your institution, and thereby advocacy for equitable policies, e.g. ensuring that benefits are accessible to all junior scientists regardless of fellowship status. The data you provide will also be part of a crowd-sourced effort to examine policies and practices nationwide.

Choose one fellowship and two institutions of interest to you. Research the specific fellowship in terms of various criteria that include, but are not limited to:

Pre-award:

  • Eligibility requirements
  • Application requirements
  • Benefits of the fellowship
  • Contact and website information

Post-award:

  • Institutional contact for fellowship
  • Disbursement handling (lump sum, taxable, in payments, how does it affect benefits)
  • Is a supplement provided by the university if the salary does not meet NIH or institutional standards for pay?

Fellowship categories:

  • Fellowships for U.S. citizens or for international students/postdocs?
  • Fellowships in a specific field
  • Fellowships from a specific funding agency

You may choose to look at how such a fellowship would be handled at your university. Institutional policies around fellowships vary, and one goal may be to advocate at your university for equitable policies, e.g. ensuring that benefits are accessible to all junior scientists regardless of fellowship status.

Example: The non-profit organization Future of Research (FoR) recently collected information on how institutions comply to a federal labor law affecting postdoc salaries. The outcome was an online resource cataloging  whether institutions would raise postdoctoral salaries, or require postdocs to record their time and claim overtime. When an injunction was granted blocking the update, FoR then tracked whether institutions kept their promise to raise postdoc salaries. This resource centralizes information in an accessible place for interested individuals (i.e., postdocs, administrators, staff) to advocate for change at their institutions, and also provides a place for them to compare policies at their institutions with those of other institutions.

Social media communication

Craft a tweet or write a short blog post to share with your community describing what you’ve learned about the fellowship. Tweet using the hashtags #FoRData #postdocs, #gradschool, #ECRchat. Your blog post can be sent to FoR at info@futureofresearch.org.

The Deliverable

Create an advocacy fact sheet.

A fact sheet is a one page document with the above information that is used to advocate for change in policy at the institutional level, or that is distributed to stakeholders (eg. graduate students and postdocs) to help them make decisions about their own career or training. It should be concise and easily digestible to the reader, but thorough. Be sure to revisit the data you’ve collected: consider whether there is information missing, whether there is discrepancies in the data presented, and revise your fact sheet if necessary.

Share your fact sheet with FoR. FoR will compile completed fact sheets and create a resource on fellowships using the data that has been collected. For an example of reporting on salary standards, see the Fair Labor Standards Act resource on FoR’s webpage.

Coming soon! Please check back later.

Fellowship lists for postdocs:

Fellowship lists for graduate students:

International Fellowships:

Skills needed to complete this task:

  • Clear, concise writing
  • Research and synthesis
  • Ability to condense larger amounts of information

Skills needed in science advocacy careers:

  • Research
  • Communication skills
  • Writing
  • Problem solving
  • Leadership and Teamwork

To view skills listed in job descriptions for policy careers, please see workforce data generated by Boston University's BEST program.

To view skills listed by professionals on LinkedIn, check out this resource created by Duke University.

Future of Research (FoR) is a non-profit organization aiming to give young scientists a voice in science policy. FoR advocates for transparency in the academic system and promotes effective, sustainable training and research practices. Data collection is imperative for FoR to create evidence-based policy changes at an institution. The goal is to bring benefit to young scientists, the whole scientific research enterprise, and the public. If you are interested in being more involved in our projects, please contact us at info@futureofresearch.org.

If you are considering undertaking this sim specifically for your current fellowship, a fellowship you have applied for, or want to apply for, and want to discuss what you find and how you think it might affect you or your institution, please contact Gary McDowell (info@futureofresearch.org).

Simulation co-authors - Adriana Bankston and Gary McDowell

Simulation vetted by the organizers of Future of Research