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Grad Union Effort Pushes for More STEM Money

UPDATED: March 31, 2016, at 11:15 a.m.

In an effort to combat stagnant science research funding, members of the Harvard graduate student union effort are publicizing a petition asking the 2016 presidential candidates to prioritize STEM funding a part of their platforms.

The Harvard group—called the Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Auto Workers—held a panel event Wednesday to draw attention to a nationwide campaign and petition started at Columbia urging the U.S. government to increase funding to research for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Dudley House is the main building for the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Taliesen Lenhart, a laboratory technician in the Molecular and Cellular Biology Department who said she supports the unionization effort, asked panelists about the next steps after the delivery of the petition. Sarah Schlotter, a graduate student from the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, said although some presidential candidates may disregard the petition, the push behind the petition will be too strong to ignore.

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Jack M. Nicoludis, another panelist who acts as a spokesperson for the HGSU-UAW and is a graduate student in the Chemistry and Chemical Biology Department, reflected on frustration many students felt because of limited funding.

“We see our [principal investigators] writing grants after grants after grants, we see the pressure to get published and the competition that’s involved,” Nicoludis said, referencing the efforts of the lead researcher in a laboratory. “These are all a result of this small pot of money that’s being distributed in the wrong way.”

Schlotter also discussed the societal impacts of “insecure” research funding. Since 2013, when the federal government enacted wide-ranging budget cuts known collectively as sequestration, Harvard has seen a steady decline in federal research funding.

“Science and research funding are essential to our economy, are essential to solving today’s problems of new diseases like Zika, of climate change, and without science we’re just going to drop behind,” Schlotter said.

The HGSU-UAW has also launched a “white board” campaign aimed at STEM funding issues. Supporters were asked to fill in a blank sheet of paper that says, “I support STEM research funding because...”

Andrew B. Donnelly, a graduate student in the English Department and member of the HGSU-UAW, said he attended the event because of his involvement with the union.

“We’ve had huge numbers of students in the humanities departments and across the whole university who have signed this STEM petition who would otherwise have never known about this issue or felt strong enough to sign it,” Donnelly said.

The roughly 30 attendees included students and workers from all backgrounds, not all of whom were involved with the unionization effort. Schlotter said attendees did not have to support the union to sign the petition.

—Staff writer Leah S. Yared can be reached at leah.yared@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @Leah_Yared

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