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A Postdoc's Guide to Advocacy: Advocacy Overview
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Created by Jennifer A. Hobin and Jennifer Zeitzer (FASEB)
Edited/adapted by Juliet Moncaster, Jill Slaboda, and Rashada Alexander for the NPA's use

Advocacy Overview | A Lobbying Primer | Understanding the Legislative Process

Making the Case for Science Research  | Additional Resources


What Is Advocacy? | Scientists as Advocates | How to Advocate | Tips for Effective Advocacy




  • The act or process of advocating or supporting a cause or proposal (Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary online).
  • The act of arguing in favor of, or supporting something; the practice of supporting someone to make their voice heard (

Advocacy is speaking, acting and writing with minimal conflict of interest on behalf of the sincerely perceived interests of a disadvantaged person or group to promote, protect and defend their welfare and justice (used in the disability community).


  • Science impacts policy, and policy impacts science.
  • Scientists have credibility and expertise.
  • Not enough for national organizations to advocate on behalf of science—lawmakers want to hear from their own constituents.
  • You are the best—and sometimes only— advocate for your interests!

“You are a stronger force than you realize.” ~ Francis Collins, Ph.D., National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director, NPA Annual Meeting, March 2010


Advocacy  starts  with a message (we'll use advocacy for an increase in the NIH National Research Service Awards (NRSA) stipends as an example):
  • Your message should be clear and specific. 
    • Increase stipends vs. increase stipends for postdocs supported on the NIH NRSA to $43,000.
    • Be realistic.
    • Are you asking for a five percent or 50 percent increase?
    • How does this compare to faculty salaries?
    • What’s the funding climate like?
  • Be aware of trade-offs and prepared to address them
    • Quality vs. quantity of slots.
    • Impact on availability of research funding.
    • Impact on postdocs supported on research grants.
    • Impact on principal investigator (PI) budgets.

Supporting Arguments:

  • Use data to support your position.
    • Only one percent increases in 2009 and 2010.
    • Postdoctoral stipends have failed to keep pace with inflation.
    • Stipends for NRSA postdocs are well below the level provided to NSF postdocs.
    • Stipends are appropriate in light of other salaries.
    • Higher stipends are consistent with agency goals.


Examples of useful data to use:

Historical NRSA Stipend Data



Other data can be sought out from professional societies such as FASEB who have collected similar data:

Education and Employment of Biological and Medical Scientists 2015
NIH Research Funding Trends: FY 1995-2014




Use data that is consistent with agency positions. For example:

“The NIH supports higher stipends for NRSA recipients and announces…tentative targets of $45,000 for entry-level postdoctoral stipends.  Future budget requests will incorporate 10 to 12 percent stipend increases until these targets are reached.  After attainment of these targets, the real value of stipends will be maintained with annual cost-of-living adjustments.” ~ NIH Statement in Response to Addressing the Nation’s Changing Needs for Biomedical and Behavioral Scientists, 2001

What’s Your Story?

  • Personalize your message!
    • How do (stipends, mentoring, funding, visas…) impact you, your family, your science?

Building Support

  • Can you find common ground within postdoctoral community?
    • Helps if the postdocs are united.
    • Approach related communities, such as:
      • Other scientific societies;
      • Investigators;
      • Institutions and their associations; and
      • Graduate student organizations.

Knowing When to Compromise

  • Is there room for compromise?
    • Phase in stipend increases vs. single boost?
    • Cap stipends at five years of postdoc training?
  • Know your bottom line
    • Must have annual cost of living adjustments?

Identifying Champions

  • Best champions are people who care about postdoc issues AND have influence in the community you want to influence.
  • They can inspire others to care about issues that are important to postdocs.
  • They can motivate policy makers and other leaders to take action!
  • Reach out, find out if they’re willing to work with you, maintain contact and positive relations.

Who Are Your Champions?

For example:

  • NPA Distinguished Service Awardees and
  • Prominent scientists supportive of postdocs.