5 Questions With…

Bridget Williams-Simmons, Ph.D. Associate Director for Basic Research and Director of the Office of Science Policy and Communications, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Photograph of Bridget Williams-Simmons, Ph.D.
  1. Your title is Director of the Office of Science Policy and Communications and Associate Director for Basic Research—What does this involve?

    My role entails a broad range of responsibilities. I provide leadership in strategic planning for the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and overall oversight of the Institute’s legislative, science policy, information sharing, resource development, and outreach programs. This work includes responsibility for publication of the Institute’s review journal, Alcohol Research: Current Reviews. It also involves serving as an advisor to the NIAAA Director on basic research and other areas, partnering with the scientific and alcohol stakeholder communities, and collaborating across the Institute to enhance visibility of NIAAA-supported basic, translational, and clinical research and initiatives. Basic research is the foundation for improving evidence-based diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of alcohol-related conditions, and in my role, I work to help Congress and the public appreciate its value and importance. Enhancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility, in terms of improving our work culture, shaping our research priorities, and cultivating a robust and sustainable biomedical workforce, is a major priority of the Institute. NIAAA has given me the opportunity to lead several of our efforts in this domain. I feel that my role at NIAAA allows me to make positive contributions to the Institute and have a positive impact on those around me. What I value most in my work is the relationships that I have built over the years, and I am grateful to my colleagues for their camaraderie and what we have been able to accomplish together. 

  2. What are some recent NIAAA accomplishments that make you proud?

    Over the years, I have been particularly proud of NIAAA’s innovative research and our ability to use state-of-the-art methods to communicate our science advances and health messages. We consistently try to reach people where they are, whether through social media, our website, or the press. I am proud that we have developed effective strategies to produce evidence-based information and disseminate it to a wide array of audiences in multiple ways. One important part of accomplishing this is to work with partners and nonprofit stakeholders and professional organizations. Our collaborations with liaison groups have proven integral to getting resources into the hands of the people who need them.

    A recent example of NIAAA’s comprehensive outreach strategy is the launch of the Healthcare Professional’s Core Resource on Alcohol (HPCR). Development of this comprehensive, web-based resource was led by colleagues in the NIAAA Division of Treatment and Recovery (DTR) and involved the input of dozens of representatives from health sciences and clinical research. DTR staff, NIAAA leadership, staff within the NIAAA Office of Science Policy and Communications, and our stakeholders helped spread the word about the HPCR and the free continuing education credits offered to clinicians, nurses, pharmacists, and other health care professionals. These efforts complemented our ongoing press and social media efforts to promote this valuable resource.

    We are always exploring innovative ways to bring scientific discoveries to light and translate scientific findings into information that our stakeholders can use. My hope is that the impact of our efforts will help:

    • Provide the public with evidence-based information to make informed choices.
    • Increase awareness that alcohol use disorder (AUD) is treatable and recovery is possible.
    • Reduce stigma associated with alcohol-related problems.
    • Empower professionals with tools and resources for addressing alcohol-related challenges.
    • Foster appreciation of the relevance of NIAAA’s work in improving public health.
  3. Looking ahead, what are some things on the horizon about which you are excited?

    There are many wonderful efforts that are ongoing across the Institute, and it is difficult to name just a few. Some that come to mind are:

    • Strengthening diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in the alcohol scientific research enterprise.
    • Continuing efforts to close the AUD treatment gap and promote recovery.
    • Integrating treatment for AUD and alcohol-associated liver disease (ALD).
    • Translating basic science discoveries into improvements for diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of AUD, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, ALD and other alcohol-related organ damage, and co-occurring conditions such as pain and mental health disorder.

    I am a fan of technology and am optimistic about the future of NIAAA-supported research in developing biosensors for use in clinical research and real-world applications.

  4. NIAAA continues to work on its next 5-year strategic plan. What can you tell us about the process?

    Many factors go into developing the strategic plan. One of the key components in the process has involved reaching out and seeking input from researchers and stakeholders. Without their insights, an effective strategic plan would be impossible. It is not easy for a field as broad as alcohol research, and I am grateful for the many staff and colleagues who have helped assemble a coherent framework. I think one thing that is striking is the “living document” nature that remains a critical aspect of NIAAA’s strategic plan. We remain committed to revisiting emerging opportunities to augment our research portfolio in coming years, while also remaining flexible to address urgent public health needs that arise. It is challenging but also incredibly rewarding to lead the development of a road map to help guide NIAAA’s efforts.

  5. Outside the office, how do you like to spend your time?

    I love to garden. My parents, grandparents, and elders of my community always maintained gardens, so it was a very normal part of life. While my green thumb could use improvement, I find growing my own food to be a rewarding experience. Nothing beats running out to the garden to grab a handful of kale, parsley, or basil to use as a last-minute addition to a recipe. I also find being outside in nature to be very relaxing and helpful in resetting mentally. Just the act of observing bees in action or taking a walk with my family fosters a deeper connection with nature. My dog, Kobe, takes advantage of our time outside and ensures that the birds and squirrels do not attack our harvest, at least when he’s watching.