APS News

Aylesworth Observes Politics in Action on the Hill

Outgoing APS Congressional Fellow Kevin Aylesworth received a crash course in politics and the inner workings of the federal government during his year on Capitol Hill, tackling opposing viewpoints from other Congressional offices, special interest groups, lobbyists and the national media, while keeping abreast of a maelstrom of technology-related policy issues.

Following an intensive, 10-day orientation period and interview process a year ago, Aylesworth chose to spend his fellowship year as a legislative assistant for Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), responsible for issues of defense, disarmament, energy and veterans' affairs. "Politically I tended to agree more with the stance of Harkin's office, so I felt it was a pretty good match," he said.

Specific highlights of his year included Aylesworth's work, along with others in Harkin's office, on an amendment to the defense authorization bill, which President Clinton signed into law in September. He also drafted numerous statements on Harkin's behalf, and found himself dealing with the media on the high-profile issue of reimbursement of restructuring costs for defense contractors that sell to or merge with other corporations. "I learned very quickly to keep my mouth shut, although perhaps not as quickly as my office mates would have liked," he said.

In addition to honing his skills in teamwork and media relations, the experience of dealing with people from all walks of life helped Aylesworth hone his communication skills, especially in communicating technical issues to the public. "I think I'd make a much better teacher now, because I've learned how to boil things down to their essentials," he said, admitting that like many physicists, he usually tried to give too much detail when dealing with the public. "Now I realize that the important thing is to give people a feeling and appreciation for the issue without bogging them down with details, because most people don't have time for the details."

Still, Aylesworth was no stranger to politics and science-related social issues prior to his fellowship year. His concern over the tight job market for young scientists led him to found an electronic bulletin board in May 1990 called the Young Scientists Network (YSN). It now has a readership of over 2,000 from many branches of science. Aylesworth received the 1996 APS Forum on Physics & Society Award in recognition of these accomplishments. He has testified before Congress and also met with representatives of the NSF and the Office of Science and Technology Policy, as well as participating in numerous panel discussions on employment-related issues.

His experiences on the Hill have helped offset his earlier image as a "hotheaded" young troublemaker. "I was a bit brash in my early years, but I think I had to be to get any notice," he said. "I contend that my brash tactics paid off, although I paid a personal price for it. Some people still think I'm 90 percent bomb thrower and 10 percent reasonable, when in fact I'm the other way around." He admits, however, that the image comes in handy during tricky negotiation processes.

Although he has gained the most recognition for his work on funding and employment issues, Aylesworth has strong interests in science and law and hydrogen energy policy, and as he looks for employment at the end of his fellowship year, he is extending his job search to encompass as broad a range of options as possible.

He is investigating opportunities in computer consulating, as well as other positions on the Hill, although for the latter he will not begin searching in earnest until after the Presidential election in November.

Aylesworth received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Nebraska in 1989, specializing in the magnetic and structural properties of magnetic thin films and multilayers. He spent two years as a postdoctoral associate at the Naval Research Laboratory and then worked as a technical assistant/paralegal for an attorney in Cambridge, Massachusetts, before founding YSN and becoming a Congressional Fellow. He was elected to the APS Council in 1993 after a successful write-in campaign placed him on the ballot, along with fellow YSN member Zachary Levine.

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Editor: Barrett H. Ripin