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Environmental Factor, April 2015

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Farris completes Society for Neuroscience Early Career Policy Fellowship

By Greg Buchold

Fariis, Allen Segal, Peter Kalivas, and Mark Rasenick

Farris posed with others on Hill Day in 2014. From left, Allen Segal, J.D., with the Society for Neuroscience; Farris; North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan; Peter Kalivas, Ph.D., professor of neuroscience at the Medical University of South Carolina; and Mark Rasenick, Ph.D., distinguished professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine. (Photo courtesy of the office of former Senator Kay Hagan)

In January, NIEHS trainee Shannon Farris, Ph.D., completed her year as a 2014 Society for Neuroscience Early Career Policy Fellow, and in February, she began a year of mentoring 2015 fellows. Farris, an Intramural Research and Training Award fellow in the NIEHS Neurobiology Laboratory is the first NIEHS fellow to receive opportunity.

The award trains early career scientists to advocate for federal, state, and local science policy that supports scientific research. Because activities largely take place in the fellow’s home district, postdoctoral mentors can more easily support their trainee’s policy efforts, knowing that lab work will not be put on hold.

“This fellowship gave me the opportunity to learn first hand how legislators make science policy decisions,” Farris said. “It also gave me the tools and skills needed to advocate for biomedical research to our North Carolina elected officials. Most importantly, it allowed me to do so while staying at the [lab] bench. It’s been a great year.”

Concrete accomplishments

The fellowship primarily supports travel funding to attend the Society for Neuroscience’s Capitol Hill Day, an annual event in Washington D.C. Fellows and senior scientists met with Senate and House members from their states, to discuss scientific research and its effects in their congressional districts.

During Farris’s year as a policy fellow, she reactivated the 160-member local chapter of the Society for Neuroscience, which hosted Representative David Price at a science policy town hall Sept. 2014 (see story).

Farris and the Triangle chapter, along with local universities, also got involved in public outreach events at area science museums during national Brain Awareness Week this past March. She also participated in the Rally for Medical Research Day, Sept. 17, 2014, in Washington, D.C.

The award also provides informational resources to fellows, to keep them apprised of emerging policy issues, the Congressional calendar, and dates that their local representatives are in their home districts.

Scientist, advocate, mentor

At NIEHS, Farris is an Intramural Research and Training Award fellow in the Synaptic and Developmental Plasticity Group, headed by Serena Dudek, Ph.D. Farris studies the function of the CA2 region of the hippocampus, in the brain. In particular, she is working to determine the molecular mechanisms underlying unique forms of plasticity in the CA2 region and its susceptibility to disease, such as schizophrenia. “Farris has a quick understanding of the way parts fit into the whole,” Dudek said. “That gives her valuable insight both in the lab and in her work locally to promote research and related activities.”

As the first NIEHS fellow selected for the award, Farris took care to comply with federal ethics laws, which prohibit certain political activities by federal employees. “My involvement was cleared by the NIEHS ethics office, and I carried out my activities as a private citizen on my own time, rather than a representative of NIEHS,” Farris said.

In addition to continuing her research, Farris plans to mentor incoming 2015 Early Career Policy Fellows and continue to seek opportunities to promote science policy as a postdoctoral fellow.

(Greg Buchold, Ph.D., is a former NIEHS postdoctoral fellow in the Reproductive and Developmental Biology Laboratory.)

Photo of the Rally for Medical Research

At the Rally for Medical Research, Farris, back row, third from right, joined about 300 people from 30 states, including scientists, nonprofit organizations, and patients, to promote continued investment in medical research. (Photo courtesy of the American Association for Cancer Research)

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