Samantha McConaughy, a University of Nebraska–Lincoln agronomy doctoral student specializing in plant breeding and genetics, was selected as one of 18 recipients of the highly competitive 2018 Future Leaders in Science Award sponsored by the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America and Soil Science Society of America. She received an all-expenses paid trip to Washington, D.C. to participate in the 2018 Congressional Visits Day March 7-8.
The CVD is an annual event sponsored by SSSA, ASA and CSSA to bring graduate students and scientists to Capitol Hill to meet with their congressional delegation and advocate for food, agricultural, and natural resources research. It also offers constituent scientists exposure to the federal budget and appropriations process, while helping them develop relationships with members of their congressional delegation.
“As a young scientist, I believe it is not only my duty to advocate for science but to passionately inspire non-scientists. Participating in Congressional Visit Day has provided an opportunity to meet these goals,” McConaughy said.
The SSSA, ASA and CSSA hosted a day of training prior to the meetings with policymakers. Speakers from a variety of viewpoints informed the delegates on the best communication strategies to use when meeting their representatives and how to effectively work with members of Congress and their staff. A panel of CVD experienced graduate students provided personal insights to having a successful meeting. They also had a chance to practice their pitches in small groups.
McConaughy stressed that meeting with policymakers and advocating for continued growth in research funding is a top priority for scientists. Policymakers are very interested and supportive of increasing funding for agriculture research.
“The future of science depends on increased funding of research that enhances the lives of the public,” McConaughy said.
CVD’s major career impact for McConaughy is the connections she formed with other graduate students, professors and policymakers.
McConaughy’s research focus is to better understand meiotic recombination which is the mechanism that mixes traits between parents. Some areas of the crop’s genome mixes traits better than others and low-mixing genomic areas can create regions that are not improved through breeding. Identifying productive areas that combine traits and studying environmental influences on these areas, can improve crop production in regions that previously could not be efficiently improved.
She is advised by David Hyten, associate professor and Haskins Professor in Plant Genetics.