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UCSB Ph.D. Students Make Their Voices Heard at Capitol for Graduate Research Advocacy Day

Amid the noisy crowd of constituents navigating a maze of hallways and offices at the state Capitol, it’s possible for the voices of two UC Santa Barbara grad student researchers to be heard. State legislators heard those voices on June 4 during the University of California’s Graduate Research Advocacy Day.

Jessica Bradshaw from UCSB’s School of Education’s Department of Counseling, Clinical and School Psychology and Emily Rivest of the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology were among a contingent of 20 Ph.D. students from all 10 UC campuses who traveled to Sacramento to meet with members of the Legislature and the administration. Their message and mission were simple yet vital: Explain the value and impact that their work has not only on California but also on the nation and the world.

Using Gov. Jerry Brown’s conference room as a base camp for the day, the UCSB students visited with several state Assembly members and senators from the local area to discuss the importance of graduate research and to describe their own research projects.

“Despite the differing political leaning of each legislator, all parties were excited to meet with students who are a part of their constituency and were very engaged in the discussion about graduate research,” said Bradshaw, a third-year Ph.D. student whose work focuses on discovering behavioral methods “for identifying infants in the first year of life who are exhibiting early behavioral symptoms of autism spectrum disorder.”

“I was delighted that each legislator was engaged during our meetings and generally interested in what I had to say,” said Rivest, a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate who studies how the natural marine resources of California, which are crucial to the livelihoods of many of the state’s residents, are vulnerable to climate change. “These state senators and assembly members see so many people every day, all year long,” she added, “that I was thrilled they asked me questions about my research and read over the fact sheet that I had prepared.”

The local legislators Bradshaw and Rivest met with were Assemblyman Jeff Gorell of the 44th District, state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson of Senate District 19, Assemblyman Das Williams of the 37th District and a UCSB grad alum, and Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian of the 35th District.

One highlight for Bradshaw came when Assemblyman Achadjian queried her in-depth about her research focus: autism.

“He was particularly interested in learning about autism, e.g., what are the early signs of autism, and exactly how does the intervention work,” Bradshaw said. “He even asked my opinion concerning treatment for autism as it relates to current political debates regarding funding for autism intervention. It was great to know that the legislators not only took time out of their hectic schedules to meet with us, but respected us as researchers and experts in our field.”

The entire UC contingent attending UC Graduate Research Advocacy Day. (UCSB photo)

Bradshaw explained to the legislators she met how graduate research can make an immediate impact on the issues California is grappling with today, such as public health and the economy.

“I have been able to provide intervention services and assessment to dozens of infants and toddlers in the local Santa Barbara area,” she said. “I have provided workshops on autism awareness and intervention techniques, and I have trained undergraduate research assistants in autism intervention and research techniques. It is important for them to know that graduate students can do more than just spend 10 hours a day isolated in a research lab. We have a real ability to make immediate, positive contributions to society.”

Rivest was both surprised and honored by one encounter during the day.

“My most memorable moment was when, after explaining how my graduate research contributes to the conservation of California’s marine resources under climate change, Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson’s staffer asked me directly what legislation I would put forward for this issue that the senator could support. I was so surprised,” Rivest said. “Honored to receive this vote of confidence in my expertise and credibility as a young scientist, I will continue to work with Sen. Jackson and her staffers to develop and support legislation that will decrease the vulnerability of our state’s coastal marine resources to climate change.”

Bradshaw found the day to be both rewarding and inspiring.

“It was rewarding to participate in a day that celebrates our work as graduate students and convey the importance of state funding in the survival of graduate student research to the people who are in the position to make a difference,” she said. “I was inspired by the energy of everyone involved, including the legislators. I left with the hope that through hearing our personal stories and realizing the passion we have about our work, state government will begin to understand the significance of graduate research and its impact beyond our personal pursuits.”

Rivest said it meant a lot to her to participate in the day.

“It was my chance to give back to the university graduate program that has launched my career over the past five years. I have grown tremendously at UCSB and feel that the graduate students as well as their incredible, envelope-pushing, relevant work are worthy of continued investment,” she said, adding that she hoped that by sharing her research with the legislators she helped “renew their enthusiasm for the asset that is UC graduate research to the State of California and the globe.”

Accompanying Bradshaw and Rivest in Sacramento were Monica Solorzano, UCSB’s assistant director of governmental relations; and Graduate Division Dean Dr. Carol Genetti.

“Being able to showcase our graduate students and their research is one of the most rewarding parts of advocating for the university,” Solorzano said. “Graduate Research Day is an opportunity for state legislators to see firsthand the important contributions that our students are making, not only to California, but to the nation and the world.”

Genetti noted that everyone benefited from the day.

“It was a great opportunity for all involved,” she said. “The students were highly impressive and clearly generated interest in the various offices that we visited. Both plan on following up with some of the contacts we made. I think the day also raised the students’ awareness of their potential for agency in influencing change at the policy level, in their own research areas and in higher education.”

The students clearly made a positive impact on Sen. Jackson. On her Facebook page the next day, she wrote this: “Really impressed by the graduate students from UC Santa Barbara that I met yesterday. They’re building California’s brain trust, researching vital issues like autism and climate change, and working to make a difference in our state!”

For more information, click here to read the Graduate Post’s article about last year’s Research Advocacy Day; click here to read the UC Office of the President’s article about this year’s event, “Grad students are driving force behind research”; and click here for the UCOP’s Graduate Research Advocacy Day page.

— Patricia Marroquin is a senior writer for the UCSB Graduate Division.

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