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Shutdown Puts Work On Hold For Researchers Collaborating With Government Scientists


Thousands of government scientists aren't working because of the government shutdown, and that's affecting university researchers they collaborate with, as NPR's Rebecca Hersher reports.

REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: Jacqueline Campbell, Ph.D., works at Iowa State University.

JACQUELINE CAMPBELL: My mom introduces me as, this is my daughter. She's a doctor, but not the type that helps people. And I generally get that look of like, what?

HERSHER: Dr. Campbell studies legumes. Specifically, she works on making genetic information about beans and peas available to scientists around the world to help them help farmers increase yields and feed people.

CAMPBELL: So usually when people ask, you know, what do you do, the first thing I ask is, do you enjoy that three-bean salad that you have? And in a very tiny way, I helped with that.

HERSHER: But since the government shutdown in December, Campbell's life has been totally upside down. First, she works in a building that's leased by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It now has a sign on the front door.

CAMPBELL: Due to the government shutdown, this USDA office is closed.

HERSHER: Campbell is 1 of 4 workers out of 40 who aren't federal employees, so the office has been pretty lonely. And normal office stuff has gotten really hard, too. She has to use her personal cellphone. And the poster printer is useless because the people who know how to use it are furloughed, which is a problem because there's a huge research meeting next week that Campbell now has extra work to prepare for.

CAMPBELL: One of my other colleagues, I am giving her a presentation.

HERSHER: Because USDA researchers won't be there to present their latest findings about the best way to raise and grow the food we eat, research that's paid for by taxpayers. And there is one more way that the shutdown is affecting Campbell and her family.

CAMPBELL: Every day that the shutdown goes on, the probability of me losing my job at the end of March increases.

HERSHER: Her job is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. That money runs out in March. The NSF is shut down. Days that could be used to apply for more NSF funding or find new money are ticking by.

CAMPBELL: I love science. I love my job. There's not a day when I don't come in, I'm just like sitting at my desk, and I'm just like, yes, what's next? And I sit at my desk now, and I kind of just look around going like, OK, what's next - in a different sense? Because now, everything is up in the air.

HERSHER: Rebecca Hersher, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rebecca Hersher (she/her) is a reporter on NPR's Science Desk, where she reports on outbreaks, natural disasters, and environmental and health research. Since coming to NPR in 2011, she has covered the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, embedded with the Afghan army after the American combat mission ended, and reported on floods and hurricanes in the U.S. She's also reported on research about puppies. Before her work on the Science Desk, she was a producer for NPR's Weekend All Things Considered in Los Angeles.