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URMC / Education / Graduate Education / URBest Blog / January 2018 / Science and Policy: Pathways and Transitions

Science and Policy: Pathways and Transitions

By Scott Steele, Associate Professor, Director of Government and Academic Research Alliances and Director of Regulatory Science Programs

There are vast numbers of rewarding roles scientists can pursue if they wish to develop and impact policy at many levels.  My career path has allowed me to explore a number of opportunities to directly and also indirectly shape policy from both the federal government and in academia.   Below are four “lessons learned” to consider as you progress through your training and career path.

Importance of planning After enjoying research experiences as an undergraduate in academia followed by industry and at the NIH, I realized I was passionate about research but wanted to apply this to other areas and examine the intersection of science, ethics, law and policy. These experiences led me to apply to PhD programs where I could first and foremost focus on challenging and exciting questions in molecular biology, while simultaneously exploring other passions in public policy and ethics. 

External events can shape your path The 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred during my third year of graduate school and re-focused my goals towards government service.  This led me to consider where I could have the greatest impact to improve national security, biodefense and public health preparedness.   I was at an ideal institution to purse this path, which had a school of public policy focused on government service that had leading faculty and programs in international relations, diplomacy, national security and science policy.  Through taking courses in international diplomacy and national security and servings as a TA for a science policy course, I further refined my interests and was able to discern where I could have a direct impact in the government. 

Be willing to accept projects outside your comfort zone Through a number of different positions in the federal government, including the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, I enjoyed becoming more of a generalist and had an opportunity to work on policies and developing new programs that ranged from biodefense and personalized medicine to energy and STEM education.  Some of these areas fell outside my original scientific background and challenged me to quickly assimilate new topics and bring together outstanding teams from across different departments and agencies to address these issues.  Several initiatives I worked with focused on developing government-industry-university collaborations to address complex policy issues.  In the end, projects that involved areas which were new to me were often the most memorable and rewarding.

Family can shape your path as well  While the work was incredibly interesting and rewarding, our family was growing and priorities and goals started to shift. I was able to find an ideal position at the University of Rochester that combined aspects of science and policy, along with helping to establish research alliances with external partners. Join me Wednesday January 10 (10:00 – 11:00) in the Northeastern Conference Room (1-9525) to learn more about my career path and decision points, what it was like working at the White House and how I help develop research and educational partnerships between UR and government agencies and laboratories, industry, and other academic institutions. 

Tracey Baas | 12/11/2017

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