Doctoral students learn science policy, advocacy in DC

From left: Ashley Railey, Senator Maria Cantwell, Allison Kolbe, and Nick Pokorzynski
From left: Ashley Railey, Senator Maria Cantwell, Allison Kolbe, and Nick Pokorzynski.

By Cheryl Reed, Graduate School

PULLMAN, Wash. – Doctoral students Nick Pokorzynski and Ashley Railey were selected to attend a three-day workshop in Washington, D.C., in March, where they learned about Congress, the federal budget process, and effective science communication.

The trip was hosted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and funded by the WSU Graduate School and the Office of Research.

The workshop was developed in response to graduate student requests to learn more about science policy and advocacy. To be eligible to attend, students are required to demonstrate strong communication and leadership skills and a desire to learn more about science policy and advocacy. More than 200 undergraduate and graduate students from 70 universities nationwide attended the fourth annual workshop this year.

“I was pleasantly surprised at the large number of students there,” says Railey, a WSU Graduate and Professional Student Association senator and individual interdisciplinary doctoral student. “We networked for four days and talked with other students about our research. It was really valuable.”

Pokorzynski, a doctoral student in the School of Molecular Biosciences, says he developed an expansive network of other students with similar interests, and learned to appreciate the importance of face-to-face communication in the political arena.

“That level of physical communication is so important in politics,” he says.

Policy and Science

Railey’s interdisciplinary research in the combined fields of economics, social sciences and animal health, looks at the decision-making processes that control diseases in livestock in Tanzania.

“I wasn’t sure I could translate science into policy-making with my work in Tanzania — but the workshop exceeded my expectations and gave me the tools,” she says. “I thought we would hear something like ‘politics is important,’ but I learned why it is important and why what we do, as scientists, is essential to the policy-making process.”

Railey, whose advisor is Tom Marsh in the School of Economic Sciences, was happy to see funding increases for science in the omnibus bill, which passed while they were in Washington, D.C.

“I could see that there is an arena for science in politics,” she said. “Knowing this, I have more of an interest in policy and how I can be active.”

Before coming to WSU, Railey spent 27 months in the Peace Corp in the Dominican Republic. She is one of two students at WSU funded by the Gates Foundation through the Program for Enhancing the Health and Productivity of Livestock in East Africa, and is also the recipient of the Graduate School’s Russ and Anne Fuller Fellowship for Interdisciplinary Research. She has traveled to Tanzania four times during her doctoral program and plans to return in November 2018 to wrap up her research.

Science, funding, government policy

Pokorzynski says he has an interest in diversifying his portfolio to include government policy, so the CASE workshop interested him.

“I got an overview of the way science policy makes its way through the government and differing perspectives on how that process works,” he says. “CASE also put together panels of people who work at funding agencies to talk with us about how they function and how funding works.”

Pokorzynski is a WSU Achievement Rewards for College Scientists student conducting research in Rey Carabeo’s lab on the molecular stress response of the sexually transmitted bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis. He came to WSU from Michigan State University and is in the third year of his doctoral program here. He also serves on the executive committee of the NIH Protein Biotechnology Training Program, which offers interdisciplinary training to students with the goal to produce versatile scientists and engineers.

“I came to WSU because of the faculty and institutional support,” he says.

Both Pokorzynski and Railey consider the workshop valuable for their careers. Engaging with policy makers and learning how to be engaged in public and science policy as well as serving as resources for Congressional staff members with less experience in science and technology were highlights.

“The biggest highlight, though, was being on Capitol Hill and meeting our Congress men and women,” says Pokorzynski. “It was an incredible experience.”

For more information about the workshop, visit AAAS’s CASE website.


Cheryl Reed, director of communication, WSU Graduate School, 509-335-7177,

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