Meeting with Members of Congress
Step 1: Determine your message.
Remember our advice for effective communication. You may also find it helpful to consult our Information on Relevant Policies for status updates on some of the policy issues that impact the astronomical sciences.
Step 2: Identify your member of Congress
To find your representative in the House: Find Your Representative (Official US House of Representatives tool). Keep in mind that you may work in one congressional district and live in another.
To find your senators: US Senators Contact Information (Official US Senate list).
Step 3: Meet in Washington, DC, or in your district/state
Decide if you want to meet with your members of Congress in Washington, DC, or in your district/state. If you want to meet with the member of Congress, then you should be mindful of the congressional schedule. If they are scheduled to be in DC, then you'll have to be in DC to get a meeting with the member of Congress.
Senators will have many local offices to serve the whole state. Representatives will have a least one office within the district or more depending on the size of the district.
Note: you're more likely to meet with a person on the member's staff than with the member, but it is possible to request a meeting with the member themselves.
Step 4: Request a meeting
Some offices prefer to have these requests come via a form on their website or by email; some prefer to be called. There really isn't any way of knowing prior to getting in touch, so pick one and do it. They'll tell you if they have a preference.
Regardless of how you make your request, you should be brief and concise. Be ready to briefly explain what you're hoping to meet about. This information is needed because it will often dictate which staffer you meet with.
Example A: I'd like to meet with the senator to discuss the way that science and the research we do at the university impact the state.
Example B: I'd like to meet with the senator to discuss the importance of ensuring that the National Science Foundation has sufficient funding.
Step 5: Prepare for the meeting
Once you have a meeting set up, you should do a little bit of research about your member of Congress.
Do they sit on any relevant committees? Find a list of relevant committees with links to the committee's membership here.
Do they have any record on the issue you hope to discuss? Check their websites for statements they may have made or for legislation they introduced or co-sponsored.
It will also probably be helpful to know a bit about your state and/or district. What's the major industry or the major employer? What are the major concerns of your state/district? You can check the National Science Board's Science and Engineering State Indicators for state-specific information about a variety of science, engineering, technology, and education measures. The National Science Foundation also collects state-level data on science and engineering personnel and finances and state rankings.
Step 6: Contact your government relations person
If you're at an institution who has a government relations person (and most, if not all, institutions have a government relations person), then it can be helpful to notify that person that you are having (or have had) a meeting. As a member of AAS, you can also contact AAS Public Policy staff.
Your institution's government relations person and AAS Public Policy staff can be helpful with setting up a meeting or putting together a message. We may ask for you to tell us how the meeting went. If so, then consider that part of your follow up (step 8).
Step 7: Have the meeting
Having the meeting may seem like the most daunting part of all this, but if you've done some research (step 5), are comfortable with the message you want to deliver (step 1), and remember how to be an effective communicator, then this will go smoothly.
Start by thanking them for their time. Tell your personal story and explain how what you are asking for directly affects you. Resist the sentiment of entitlement. You may think your research is the most fascinating and inspires all young scientists, but there is other government funded research that is also fascinating and inspires youth.
Try to remember that this is a conversation and not a lecture. Leave space for dialouge. Answer questions honestly and admit when you do not know the answer. Offer to serve as a resource and invite them to your facility, observatory, or university.
Step 8: Follow up!
You should at least thank the person that you met with for their time. If during your conversation you promised to get them more information, then send it. If the person that you met with was especially interested in some topic, then provide additional information.
Thank you notes should be sent (email is fine) within 1 week of your meeting. If you need more time to gather the additional information, then say something like, "I'll send the rest of the information that we discussed in the next few days."
This is also a good time to reiterate your issue and what you are asking for. Do not let visits or communications be a one-time deal. Keep the line of communication open and make talking with your member of Congress a part of your professional life.