Science (Policy) for the Benefit of Humanity

Sarah Ackerman

Science policy is a broad subject, which is vitally important to all scientists and members of society. It encompasses many topics ranging from NIH grant funding, to restrictions on new technologies, such as CRISPR or stem cells, to how data and science should be used when making policies about health care or the environment. These policies greatly impact scientific research and it is essential for scientists to understand these policies and to advocate for their research with society in mind.

The Science and Education Policy Association (SEPA) is a Tri-Institutional group led by graduate students and postdoctoral fellows who recognize the importance of science policy.  To bring these topics to light, SEPA organizes speakers on policy issues, discussion groups, career panels, and writing workshops to educate our academic community about science policy and potential career options in the field.

On November 10, SEPA hosted the Second Annual Science Policy Symposium at the Rockefeller University. The day was sponsored by The Schmidt Foundation, The Moore Foundation, The Rockefeller University, and Weill Cornell Medicine.  The goal of the symposium was to expose early career scientists to the world of science policy, provide training workshops to acquire skills used in science policy, and create a networking opportunity for like-minded scientists. The symposium attracted over 200 attendees, predominately graduate students, from all over the country.

The event was kickstarted in Caspary auditorium by Dr. Jennifer Pearl, the director of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology Policy Fellowship.  Throughout the day we heard talks by Erin Heath, an AAAS Federal Budget expert, Dr. Frances Colon, the former Deputy Science and Technology Advisor for the State Department, and Dr. Dalal Najib, the senior program officer in the Policy and Global Affairs Division of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. The day also included a panel titled Rebuilding a Sustainable and Resilient Puerto Rico through Science and a panel with representatives from different science policy fellowship programs. Six workshops throughout the day also trained attendees in skills pertaining to science advocacy, working with non-profit organizations, science communication, scientists in political office, and changes to STEM education. More than thirty students/student groups also participated as presenters in a poster session. The day’s schedule ended with a keynote talk given by Dr. Kerri-Ann Jones, the Vice President of the Pew Charitable Trusts and the former United States Assistant Secretary of the State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs at the U.S. State Department.  She discussed her invaluable experience serving as a scientific advisor in the White House.

This jam-packed symposium schedule allowed attendees to tailor the day to their interests, interact with and ask questions of high-level scientists working in the policy field, and build relationships with other early career scientists interested in science policy. The event has fostered connections and training opportunities for symposium attendees from around the country and particularly for SEPA members who organized and volunteered for the event. The magnitude of interest curated from the event encouraged attendees that there are other like-minded scientists passionate about science policy and that these interests are possible to pursue as a career. In a follow-up survey given to our attendees, 85% said that after attending the symposium they are more likely to contact someone they met at the symposium and 90% said they would attend another conference like ours in the future. For more coverage of the day, check out our twitter hashtag #NSPNsymposium18!

For those who are interested in science policy there is more exciting news—SEPA, in collaboration with the Science Policy Initiative (SPI) from the University of Virginia, has launched the new National Science Policy Network (NSPN). The organization aims to connect science policy groups all over the country and come together on new initiatives. One initiative is the microgrant project. The first round of grants have been given out to science policy groups around the country for specific projects or to launch their own group at their university. NSPN’s second initiative is the memo writing competition. Memo writing is a critical component for influencing policy and knowing how to write one is crucial for a successful science policy career. At the Symposium on November 10, NSPN announced the start of the memo writing competition. Winners will receive a reward and be published in the Journal of Science Policy and Governance.

If you are interested in being part of our memo writing team or just want to get involved please email SEPA (nyc.sepa@gmail.com).  SEPA is working hard to educate our community about science policy issues and provide unique educational opportunities for scientists to be competitive for policy fellowships and jobs. Come join us!

Comments are closed.