‘Stand Up For Science’ Teach-In, Rally Highlight Importance of Public Support, Diversity in Science

By Nina Bai

Hundreds of people eager to show their support for science turned out for UC San Francisco’s "Stand Up For Science" teach-in and rally last weekend, which highlighted the importance of federal funding for research.

The April 22 events, held at UCSF’s Genentech Hall, coincided with Earth Day and the March for Science in Washington, D.C., as well as hundreds of satellite demonstrations in cities worldwide, including San Francisco.

Kicking off the morning was a teach-in with eight UCSF faculty who shared their experience of pursuing scientific research that has clashed with political sentiments. The speakers also urged those in attendance to become advocates for scientific research – especially as proposals loom on the federal level to slash funding.

“They have been perseverant in trying to move facts to the light of day and allow sensible policies to emerge,” said Mike McCune, MD, PhD, professor of medicine and AIDS researcher, in introducing the panel.

Past Work, Calls for Advocacy

Esteban Burchard, MD, MPH, professor of bioengineering in the School of Pharmacy, who studies racial and ethnic disparities in health, said that funding for the National Institutes of Health is necessary to keep up with the changing demographics of the United States. “A big part of my work is advocacy for preserving the NIH and [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] that funds the work that we do – not only as a scientist, but as a member of the populace,” he said.

Eight members of the UCSF faculty sit on the stage during the Stand Up For Science teach-in in Genentech Hall
Esteban Burchard (second from left), MD, MPH, speaks during the Stand Up For Science teach-in held at Genentech Hall. Photo by Noah Berger

Andre Campbell, MD, professor of surgery, has pushed for research on gun violence as a public health issue. He urged the UCSF community: “Advocate for your patients, advocate for issues you’re passionate about, and advocate for institutions you believe in.”

Others encouraged scientists to step outside their comfort zones, whether that means speaking to the news media or lawmakers. “Publishing the science in good medical journals wasn’t going to get me where I wanted to go,” said Rebecca Smith-Bindman, MD, professor of radiology, who studies the overuse of medical imaging and has helped establish standards for radiology practice. “I need to get involved in advocacy. I need to make awareness outside my circle.”

James G. Kahn, MD, MPH, professor at the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies, whose research has influenced policies on needle exchange programs for HIV prevention, noted that being an advocate can be tough. “When science runs up against politics, it can take a beating,” said Kahn. Despite that, he said, a persistent focus on saving lives, backed up by data, can help change people’s minds on controversial issues.

Echoing that point, Suneil Koliwad, MD, PhD, assistant professor at the Diabetes Center, said, “When you make arguments in ways that connect, you can change people’s minds.”

The other speakers at the teach-in included Susan Fisher, PhD, professor of reproductive sciences; Cherrie Boyer, PhD, professor of pediatrics; and Tracey Woodruff, PhD, MPH, professor of reproductive sciences.

Rally Unites Bay Area Scientists

The teach-in was followed by a rally outside Genentech Hall organized jointly by UCSF, the California Life Sciences Association and the UCSF-affiliated Gladstone Institutes. Leaders from the Bay Area life sciences community spoke out for the need for robust funding of research and the importance of diversity and inclusion in advancing scientific discovery.

“We believe our strength as a university stems from a culture that embraces diversity,” said UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood, MBBS.

Members of the UCSF and the Bay Area life-sciences communities gather for a rally outside of Genentech Hall during the Stand Up For Science events on Saturday, April 22. Photo by Noah Berger 

Cynthia Kenyon, vice president of aging research at the life-science company Calico, acknowledged that “We’re all here because science is in trouble.” But she said that over the centuries, scientific progress has been driven by curiosity and a need to make sense of the world. “Don’t despair, science will win in the end. We’ll always be curious.”

Hana El-Samad, PhD, associate professor of biochemistry and biophysics, called on every person in attendance to become a “broadcasting station for science.” She quoted President John F. Kennedy, saying, “Ignorance in one citizen in a democracy impairs the safety of all.”

“Let’s go marching today, and tomorrow let’s get to work,” she said.

The other speakers of the rally were R. Sanders Williams, president of the Gladstone Institutes; Paul Hastings, CEO of OncoMed; and Regis Kelly, PhD, Byers Family Distinguished professor at UCSF and director of the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3). 

The speakers were cheered on by a crowd that included students, scientists and physicians – many wearing their white coats – their families, and members of the community. They waved colorful signs celebrating science and sported “Hug a Scientist” pins.

The day’s events also included a postcard writing booth, at which people lined up to send messages to their congressional representatives.

UCSF Advocates in Washington

As a continuation of “Stand Up For Science,” 45 students, postdocs, staff and faculty on Monday participated in UCSF Advocacy Day, an event on Capitol Hill organized by UCSF Government Relations. The UCSF contingent visited 19 offices on the Hill to promote and advocate for several issues critically important to UCSF’s mission, including science education, research and health care.  

The group met with the offices of the California delegation, which includes Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Sen. Kamala Harris, Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Jackie Speier. Students also brought UCSF’s message to their hometown lawmakers from across the country, including several Republican lawmakers.

“The voices of our students and faculty are our most poignant, and effective advocacy tool,” said Keith Yamamoto, vice chancellor for Science Policy and Strategy. “Yesterday our delegation expertly relayed UCSF’s central messages, including the importance of NIH, NSF, and other federal funding to science, the American economy, and our nation’s ability to attract, retain and benefit from contributions from the world’s best scientific talent.”

Throughout the last week, members of the UCSF community came together to write more than 1,000 handwritten notes urging their senators and representatives to support scientific research, to stand up for diversity and inclusion in science, to protect foreign-born students, scientists and doctors, and to preserve access to health access and coverage. The UCSF delegation hand-delivered these messages to more than 20 elected officials across Capitol Hill on Monday.

The Advocacy Day in Washington allowed participants to feel involved in advocacy, said Caroline Tai, a doctoral student in the Epidemiology and Translational Science program.

“After a full day on Capitol Hill, we all feel very empowered and so much more knowledgeable about the process of advocacy,” she said.

large group of UCSF faculty, staff, students pose in front of Capitol
More than 40 faculty, postdocs and students pose for a photo in front of the Capitol on Monday. See the slideshow above for more images from UCSF Advocacy Day in Washington D.C. Photo by James Kegley