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June 2020 (Volume 29, Number 6)
By Tawanda W. Johnson
As part of the American Physical Society’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic, APS President Phil Bucksbaum recently sent a letter to the House Science Committee outlining policy initiatives that would help the physics community overcome challenges posed by the health crisis.
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted APS members in myriad ways, including a severe reduction of research activity at many of the nation’s laboratories and universities. And at the same time, APS members are also juggling additional responsibilities, including taking care of their children who are out of school or relatives who may need extra help.
“I want APS members to know that the Society is working hard to help get our physics community through and beyond this pandemic,” said Bucksbaum.
Bucksbaum said that APS talked with researchers from a range of institutions to assess their needs. And based on that feedback and conversations among Society leadership, in his letter he asked Congress to take the following steps to help restore research after labs reopen:
Prior to sending the letter to the House Committee, Bucksbaum said that APS addressed concerns from graduate students, post docs, and visiting scientists who are also grappling with negative impacts from the pandemic.
“Our immediate concern was to ensure that our graduate students, post docs, and visiting researchers continue to be financially supported from their grants during the crisis. Working with the APS Forum on Graduate Student Affairs (FGSA), we issued an advocacy alert, and hundreds of letters were sent urging science agencies to respond. We quickly received confirmation that science agencies will cover those salaries and benefits. Thanks to FGSA and our APS Office of Government Affairs (APS OGA), that effort benefited students in all disciplines, all across the country.”
Tiffany Nichols, chair of FGSA, said the advocacy alert was crucial in getting the word out to Congress about how graduate students, post docs, and visiting researchers have been impacted by COVID-19.
“By providing a mechanism through which many voices can be elevated, this advocacy effort was able to ensure that graduate students, under federal grants, will continue to receive funds that cover their living expenses and wellbeing—which is especially critical during this pandemic,” said Nichols, who is also an attorney and a doctoral candidate in the history of science at Harvard University.
APS has received positive responses from congressional and agency staff on several of its other requests, including from the State Department, whose staff confirmed that they had “heard from the scientific community” and would prioritize international students in the visa process. APS members had a significant impact by sending 2,240 letters to their members of Congress, urging lawmakers to support the recommendations in Bucksbaum’s letter.
“APS members mobilized in 47 states plus the District of Columbia, reaching 56 percent of all House offices (243) and 94 Senate offices with this letter—a truly representative sample of our membership and a broad swath of the country,” said Callie Pruett, Senior Strategist for Grassroots Advocacy in APS OGA.
Still, Bucksbaum pointed out, “there is more to do, and we will continue to work with agencies, Congress, and our organizational partners to get this done. And of course, we’ll continue to work with APS members and keep them updated on our progress.”
Francis Slakey, APS Chief Government Affairs Officer, said he was proud of the Society’s response and added that physicists are enabling a global—and more equitable and effective— response to the pandemic through roles in various innovations that are aiding in combating the virus.
“APS will continue to partner with our members to ensure that the physics community gets through and beyond this pandemic. Physicists have played a critical role, not just in advancing effective policy responses, but also in developing technology that’s critical to combating the virus,” Slakey added.
To keep APS members updated on its overall COVID-19 response, including information related to its meetings, journals and supporting educators, the Society has a COVID-19 response page, which can be accessed here.
The author is the APS Senior Press Secretary.
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Editor: David Voss
Staff Science Writer: Leah Poffenberger
Contributing Correspondent: Alaina G. Levine
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