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Grappling with today's hottest science policy issues was just another day at the office for Stephanie Young, a senior at University of California, Berkeley, who spent this past summer as an intern at the APS Office of Public Affairs in Washington, DC. A physics and astrophysics major, Young applied for the internship as a means of exploring alternate career options for people with backgrounds in physics. The internship "sounded perfect for me. It's directed at physics majors who are also interested in politics and I thought it would be a fun change of pace," she says.
Upon arrival, she was immediately plunged into a crash course in the political process, attending Congressional hearings on climate change and national missile defense, getting involved with a proposed Congressional bill to reinstate the Office of Technology Assessment (see APS News, August/September 2001), and helping produce "What's New," the Society's weekly electronic newsletter on science policy issues. "I've really been able to get a sense for how the whole process works, and to see the politics involved first-hand," she says.
As for the future, Young remains undecided, although her experience this summer has definitely piqued her interest in the possibility of returning to DC after she graduates, either working on science policy issues or in a Congressional office, before applying to graduate schools in physics. "I'm in the process of trying to decide what direction I want to take, career-wise, and it's a very one-directional process at Berkeley," she says, where the emphasis is on the traditional career path of undergraduate work, graduate school, postdocs, and tenure-track faculty positions. "This summer, I saw physicists doing other things, like science writing, science policy, and lobbying. There's so much else out there that science majors can do."
Washington interns have been the subject of much negative media attention in recent years, but Young isn't likely to be easily cowed or dissuaded from her goals by any real or imagined risks. She's spent the last year volunteering as a math tutor to prison inmates at San Quentin in her spare time. San Quentin is one of only a handful of prisons nationwide that offers educational programs for inmates; in fact, inmates can earn the equivalent of an AA degree at the prison.
"It's definitely intimidating the first few times you go there," Young admits, but adds that program participants are carefully screened. "They're not going to put you in a classroom with Charles Manson." Despite the strain on her already hectic schedule, she finds the experience rewarding, even though the mathematics involved is very basic addition and subtraction. "It's very satisfying to know they'll come out of prison with basic math skills," she says. "It makes me feel like I'm doing something worthwhile to help the community in some way."
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