By Sheeva Azma
.@SheevaAzma: “It’s interesting to think my skills as a science communicator translate so well to political communications.”Tweet
Note: I wrote this piece in late October 2022. In November, both candidates I was helping elect won (Mark Kelly in Arizona and John Fetterman in Pennsylvania)!
As of writing this in October 2022, I am on the social media volunteer teams of two US Senate campaigns: Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, who is running to flip retiring senator Pat Toomey’s seat blue; and Senator Mark Kelly of Arizona, who’s been serving in office since he won the special election to succeed the late John McCain in 2020.
For the Kelly campaign, I’ve been phone banking and talking to Arizonans, both in Spanish and English. My copywriting experience, combined with knowledge of the human mind, has helped me. I created my own version of the phone banking script, for example, to make it more compelling. That means fewer people hanging up on me, and potentially, more and better conversations about why constituents should vote for Senator Kelly.
I’ve also volunteered with the Kelly for Senate social media content and distribution team to help with content creation. For example, I contributed the idea of using checkboxes to list out different talking points in the below tweet, and the Kelly digital team thought it was a good idea. So they used it! In other words, I helped write this tweet to help re-elect an astronaut to the US Senate. Pretty cool!
For the Fetterman campaign, I did some phone banking to talk to Pennsylvanians. I also participated in relational organizing – that’s when you contact people you know personally to convince them to vote for your candidate. I was also interested in helping with their social media strategy, which is fun and lighthearted, though pretty negative of Fetterman’s opponent, TV doctor and retired heart surgeon Dr. Oz.
As part of the Fetterman campaign’s social media organizing volunteer squad, I join a weekly social media brainstorm. There, we talk about the current topics or issues facing the campaign, or what’s being said about our candidate in the media or elsewhere. We also help come up with some tweets that can help spread the word about our great candidate. Here’s a lighthearted tweet I came up with at a social media brainstorm session:
Both the Kelly and Fetterman campaigns used a lot of science-based messaging. Currently serving as Pennsylvania’s Lieutenant Governor, John Fetterman is recovering from a stroke and a lot of his political messaging revolves around the healthcare system. He gained garnering support from physicians and scientists in his race to beat a physician, Dr. Oz. Fetterman was also critical of Oz’s support of diet fads and sought to ground himself in science and reality to differentiate himself from his opponent.
Sen. Kelly is a former astronaut and does a lot of SciComm political messaging, especially in his shepherding of the CHIPS and Science act to boost US domestic semiconductor infrastructure.
My science messaging experience in COVID-19 taught me a lot about how people digest and interpret messages. It’s interesting to think my skills as a science communicator translate so well to political communications. All of my life, I have felt siloed from the political world, when actually, I am well-equipped to work in this arena. It was just that I thought of myself as a scientist, disconnected from the real world, when I’ve been an important part of the real world this whole time.
Through my work in the political world, I have been able to connect with many different people from different backgrounds and walks of life, and have learned so much in the process.
We live in a society with all different types of people, and having things in common with people is key to living harmoniously. That’s not to say that I am not fiercely opinionated on certain subjects, but it’s good to have common ground with people.
Bipartisanship is my jam! Science isn’t Republican or Democrat, and as an ardent supporter of science, I love that. When communicated properly, science can be a unifier in our incredibly politicized world. Better living through science can transcend political divides. Beyond politics, we all have shared values such as staying healthy and safe, for instance.
People often ask me how I got involved in science policy. The answer is that I have always been involved in policy since I was young. I have also always been interested in science since I was young. Looking back, I wish there were more ways for scientists to also become engaged in policy. The COVID-19 pandemic showed the world that there is a huge need for scientists who are also skilled communicators and policymakers. The question I ask myself now is: how can we create scientists who are just as skilled at communicating and informing policy as they are in conducting rigorous science?
This post is part seven of a seven-part series called “A Scientist in Politics.” Read the other parts:
Part 1: Growing up Democrat in a red state
Part 2: Political organizing as a break from MIT
Part 3: A science PhD student in Washington, DC
Part 4: Leaving academia but not science
Part 5: Running the political gamut and working in Congress!
Part 6: Why can’t I stay away from politics?
Part 7: The 2022 midterm elections