APS Intern Learns the Ropes on the Hill
Attending Congressional hearings on federal funding priorities for science was a new experience for physics graduate student Helene Grossman, who spent this past summer as an intern in the APS Office of Public Affairs (OPA) in Washington, DC. And, she says, that was the point. In addition to simply being "a lot of fun," having the chance to interact with Congressional offices and learn the basics of public policy has given her a broader perspective about her future career options.
Grossman grew up in Waltham, MA, graduating from Yale University in 1996 with a BS in physics. She is presently pursuing graduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley, under the purview of Dr. John Clarke, having completed her MA in physics in 1998. Clarke, a pioneer of superconducting quantum interference device (SQUID) technology, most recently the developed a scanning SQUID microscope capable of imaging room temperature samples from as near as 15 microns. Grossman current project involves the study of bacteria tagged with magnetic nanoparticles and employing a SQUID detection system. She was an invited speaker at the APS Ohio Section meeting in May, which highlighted not only scanning probe technology, but also women in physics. It was there that she met APS Associate Executive Officer, Barrett Ripin, who encouraged her to apply for an internship with the APS.
To supplement her studies, Grossman has actively sought out a variety of summer jobs and internships, of which the OPA internship is the most recent. "Basically I reached that middle point of graduate school where you do a lot of introspection about what you want to do for a career," she says. "I felt that, before I embarked on three more years of graduate work, I should get a better idea of where I was going and learn about some different career paths that might be available after getting my PhD," she says.
Her responsibilities at the OPA included compiling and organizing the multitude of data related to the APS Congressional Visits program, but Grossman also had the opportunity to attend several Congressional hearings on pending legislation, reporting her findings to the OPA staff. "It helps us to tailor our lobbying efforts," she explains. Key issues this summer included federal funding for science in the proposed FY2000 budget, and the restructuring of the nuclear weapons complex, resulting from security concerns earlier this year. Her research of specific issues included interviewing psychologists, FBI agents and other specialists about the reliability of the polygraph, in the wake of a Department of Energy proposal to require 5000 scientists engaged in defense-related research at the national weapons labs to submit to polygraph testing. She also contributed to "What's New," the frequently irreverent weekly electronic newsletter on public policy penned by APS Director of Public Affairs, Robert Park.
Grossman spent two previous summers as a research assistant at Yale, studying the use of magnetic mirrors to bounce ultra-cold atoms, which led to co-authorship of a paper in Physical Review Letters, as well as optical properties of highly distorted micro-cavities. In 1995, she spent the summer at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, working with a young professor in the Department of Complex Systems on computer simulations of atoms propagating through an atomic lens. "It gave me the opportunity to see science at work in another country," she says, as well as refining her knowledge of computer simulations. And in 1997 she spent the summer as a research assistant at Lucent Technologies working on scanning capacitance microscopy, as part of the requirements of a grant she received from the company's Graduate Research Program for Women fellowship program.