The Science Policy Group at Berkeley

We are a group of graduate students (and a few undergrads, post-docs, faculty, and staff!) at UC Berkeley in STEM fields who are excited about the intersection of science and policy, eager to learn and share our knowledge on how policy influences science and vice-versa. Our group explores how scientists can better communicate with policymakers, and we turn that into action while interfacing with local, state, and national elected representatives. We strive to increase conversation among students and the broader community on science policy issues, enable students to advocate for science and evidence-based policies, and provide science policy-related educational and professional development opportunities for students.

We meet twice a month on Tuesdays at 6:00, alternating between invited speakers (see our Events page) and internal meetings where we work on our projects. Sign up for our newsletter and come check us out!

Looking back on the tax bill

In the last few weeks of 2017, Vetri Velan and Kathy Shield shaped the national conversation with their analysis and calculator for determining how the proposed tax plan could impact graduate students. Ultimately, their efforts paid off, and the final language did not include the changes to graduate students’ taxes on tuition money. With support from the UC Berkeley Government Relations and Communications teams, the Graduate Student Assembly, and even Chancellor Carol Christ herself, as well as the rest of the SPG members making phone calls to their representatives and sharing resources with their friends across the country, Velan and Shield were able to alter the narrative and get coverage in local, state, and national publications. (See below)

Not sure how tax code section 117(d) matters? Read Velan’s analysis here.

The calculator was open for anyone to use nationally, and provided information to thousands of students, journalists, and activists.

 In addition to these publicly available resources, additional information about calling representatives was made available to university students across the country, and Shield wrote a short memo that UC representatives in Washington DC brought to the Hill. Shield and Velan were recognized on Jan. 12, 2018 by Rep. Barbara Lee when she entered a summary of their efforts into the 115th Congress’ Congressional Record., and presented them with commemorative plaques at a community event the next day.

Working to influence policy at the national level was an eye opening experience for both students and the group as a whole that led to new relationships within the university and with student leaders nationwide. As a group, we look forward to continuing to work with the contacts we’ve made to continue supporting science and scientists nationally.


LMT Online –

314 Action on campus

The Science Policy Group is teaming up with 314 Action to bring that group’s founder and president, Shaughnessy Naughton, to campus to discuss Science, Politics, and Policy. Our discussion will revolve around the challenges scientists face in politics and the importance of including science in the process of policy-making.

The event will be held at Anthony Hall on Monday, December 18 at 5:30pm and is open to the public. The discussion will be followed by a networking reception.

If you’re interested in joining us, please RSVP here:

314 Action is an organization that supports scientists and STEM professionals seeking elected office.

SPG members host tax bill phone blitz

On Wednesday, November 15, Science Policy Group members organized a phone blitz for graduate students to make calls to their Congresspeople and share their opinion about the tuition exemption in current tax law. Students from six departments made over 150 calls to legislators in about three hours, and the next day the clause was brought up on the floor of the House.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act removes existing tax law section 117(d), which exempts our tuition from our taxable income. It means that graduate students don’t pay taxes on the ~$15,000 – $50,000 of tuition that our departments pay universities on our behalf. SPG member Vetri Velan wrote a document that outlines the impact of this change on students from different schools. In line with our group’s commitment to enabling everyone to take action, resources were made available to students calling both in support of and opposition to the change.

As of November 16, the removal clause remains in the House language that passed the chamber. Similar language is not present in the Senate’s version of the bill; if the current version gets through the Senate, the clause will be up for discussion in conference. Keep an eye on this page and on our twitter account for further updates.

Welcome to the SPG homepage!

We are a new UC Berkeley student group, beginning in the Fall 2017. We meet every other Monday at 7:00, usually in LeConte 375, and discuss anything and everything at the intersection of science and policy. The group is currently mostly graduate students, but undergraduates are more than welcome. Come join us!