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Two Takes on the Annual National Science Policy Network Symposium

Sydney Simpson

In November of 2019 I attended the 2nd Annual National Science Policy Network (NSPN) Symposium, in hopes of answering a few questions: Are there careers in Science Policy that interest me? What can I do to prepare for these careers? And most importantly, do I like Science Policy enough to make a career out of it?

Shortly after landing in Madison, Wisconsin I headed over to the University of Wisconsin-Madison and began my first activity: C-ROADS, an interactive climate simulation that can be summarized as a combination of a model United Nations, where participants mimic climate change negotiations, and a computational model. Over the next 3 hours we negotiated and advocated for our countries’ positions while taking into account the competing interests that come into play during diplomacy and policy-making. We debated things such as CO2 emissions, when these emissions would peak, what rate they’d decline, what reforestation effort we were willing to commit to, and finally how much money we could contribute to or would need to take from the Green Climate Fund, a fund set up by the UN to assist developing nations in creating green energy. In the end, we were unable to reach our goal and the simulation showed much of the world flooding. The discussion afterwards was as illuminating as the activity itself. We discussed how developing tools such as C-ROADS stimulates conversations about science, and engages people regardless of educational background.

The following morning Jo Handelsman, the previous Associate Director for the Office of Science and Technology Policy, gave her opening remarks and discussed an initiative she worked on while in the OSTP; evaluating the science portion of forensic science. She discussed policy issues and implications- forensic techniques that have never been subject to controlled experiments to estimate effectiveness. She also talked about a new initiative to train early career scientists as expert witnesses. I stayed after her talk to get her business card and became one of the first scientists to apply for this new program. From here I attended brief workshops on topics that ranged from what poses we use while speaking, to memo writing and how to get involved in local government. Throughout this time I met with a number of people, all as enthused about going into Science Policy as I am. I learned how important having a twitter presence is- as some employers even ask for your twitter account. I met a fellow scientist and artist who creates science advocacy pins and zines which educate the general public about current science techniques such as CRISPR. From these new connections I also learned about other professional conferences and organizations, such as the Annual AAAS Symposium, which both politicians and scientists attend. Fellows from the AAAS Science and Technology Policy and Presidential Management Fellows also attended and happily gave information about these fellowships and other programs that I can apply to after graduation.

The next day included more workshops as well as breakout meetings for the different NSPN hubs. I was able to get to know members from other chapters in the Northeast, and what NSPN as a whole is doing as it continues to grow. Overall, this symposium taught me about science advocacy and communication in addition to policy, helped me to network, and more importantly establish connections with people in the field I want to go into. In the end, attending this conference only reaffirmed my belief that science policy is a good career choice, and I highly recommend that anyone with an interest in science policy attend an NSPN Symposium. Since attending I have created a twitter, remained in contact with my new network, and am working on my first ever kickstarter to bring science advocacy pins to the East Coast.

Vania Lopez-Ruiz

Sydney Simpson and Vania Lopez-Ruiz
Sydney Simpson and myself at the end of the conference

Everything is political because politics are involved in everything.

As a first-year student, I know that there are many possibilities for where my post degree career will take me. Most of these had been distilled as parts of two distinct paths, either academia or industry. Recently I was introduced to a third path, policy and since joining the University of Rochester Science Policy Initiative (URSPI) I have been learning about opportunities within this path. In pursuit of learning more about science policy I attended the annual meeting of the National Science Policy Network (NSPN).

Hosted by the UW Madison Catalyst for Science Policy (CaSP) group, the second annual NSPN conference was a weekend full of application talks for scientist in policy as well as a many workshop aimed at teaching effective communication of scientific research to the general public-arguably this is a useful skill beyond science policy. The opening of the conference was immersive, as participants partook in a climate change simulation that required negotiation skills to make effective science policy changes. The rest of day allowed participants to explore Madison- the capital of Wisconsin and meet Pete Souza- the former white house photographer during the Obama administration at a secret book signing.

Day two was a marathon. The opening talk was an immediate eye opener for me. Dr. Jo Handelsman spoke about her experience as a scientist and her role in changing the legality of forensic science by bringing to the table the fact that at the time -and still in some states- acceptable "scientific" forensic evidence lacks any sort of backing from the scientific method. Dr. Handelsman combined her experience as a scientist with her ease for communication to serve as the Associate Director of Science during the Obama administration. As simple as it seems, the opening remarks brought to my attention that should I chose to pursue a career in policy using science, I wouldn’t necessarily need to do so from a lobbying perspective. For the rest of the day each participant was allowed to tailor their own schedule as the organizers planned on having some sessions in replicate to allow for this. I wanted my experience to be diverse because for me the entire conference was a learning experience into a field that I knew very little about. I had the opportunity to learn about the effective use of social media in science policy. I attended a panel discussion about the importance of regulating translational research and how to communicate the science behind the treatment to patients enrolling in clinical trials. I attended a memo writing workshop and I learned about how scientific communication works in the private/industrial sector. We closed our day by hearing from Dani Washington, who used her degree in Marine Biology to teach children and adults science through her television shows.

I started day three with a little bit of knowledge on what felt like everything that science policy could be involved in. I was wrong. After attending the eastern hub breakout meeting and meeting with other people that are part of NSPN in our area I went to what I felt like was the central piece of every session I had attended since arriving in Madison, how to actually engage the general public in scientific research and its importance. I returned to Rochester with a much better prospective about what science policy is and what some ways of using my scientific degree for a career in policy could look like, which I really think will be invaluable going through my Ph.D. and making choice about different opportunities. However, I think the biggest take home lesson for me was that politics and effective communication skills are useful in every single career path that I could chose, because at the end of the day science is applicable to everyone.