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URMC / Education / Graduate Education / URBest Blog / December 2019 / The Annual National Science Policy Network Symposium: Take Two

The Annual National Science Policy Network Symposium: Take Two

By Vania Lopez-Ruiz, PhD Graduate Student in Cell Biology of Disease

The National Science Policy Network hosts an annual symposium to bring together the different chapters of the organization to focus in on skill building, knowledge gaining, and networking in regards to science policy. Vania Lopez-Ruiz from the University of Rochester Science Policy Initiative (URSPI) attended this meeting in November 2019 and shares her experience here.

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 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 scientists interested in policy as well as many workshops 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, so participants engaged in a climate-change simulation that required negotiation skills to make effective science policy changes. The rest of day allowed participants to explore the capital of Wisconsin – Madison – 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 with communication to serve as the Associate Director for the Office of Science and Technology Policy during the Obama administration. As simple as it seems, the opening remarks brought to my attention that should I choose 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 science to children and adults through her television shows.

I started day three feeling that I had a little bit of knowledge on everything that science policy could be involved in. I was wrong. I next met with eastern NSPN hub members in a breakout meeting, where they focused on the one crucial skill that played a role in every NSPN Symposium session: Communication. We discussed how to actually engage the general public in scientific research and how to demonstrate the importance of science and research. I returned to Rochester with a much better perspective about what science policy is, how I might use my scientific degree, and what a career in science policy could look like. I really think my experience at the NSPN Symposium will be invaluable as I navigate my Ph.D. training and make choices 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.

This article was first published on the University of Rochester Science Policy Initiative (URSPI) Blog

For more information about URSPI, please contact Nazish Jeffery, President of URSPI.



Tracey Baas | 12/16/2019

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