The APS Office of Public Affairs (OPA) is instituting a new District Advocate Program that will assign an APS member as point person in each Congressional district. The goal of the new program is to build a volunteer network of district and state advocates within the physics community to facilitate the Society’s grassroots activities, according to Kimberly Regan, the new science policy fellow at OPA.
Photo credit: Brian Mosley Kimberly Regan
“We thought that having a constituent representative in each district would be a great way to ensure that the voices of individual scientists are heard,” explains Regan, who joined the OPA in August. Whenever a policy issue arises, the OPA can contact the local district advocates, who can then contact other scientists in their district to take action, whether it be contacting a Congressional office, or circulating a departmental letter within their university.
The DA program is still in its early days. Regan is in the process of recruiting the first 50 volunteers. There are currently 20 members so far who have agreed to participate, and she welcomes contact from any APS members interested in volunteering their time. OPA plans to keep the program small at first to determine which methods are most effective and have the greatest impact. If successful, it will be expanded in subsequent years.
Regan comes to the APS from Princeton University, where she is just wrapping up a PhD in solid state chemistry. It might seem surprising to some that a chemist would find a home at APS, but her doctoral thesis is on magnetic properties of ruthenium oxide extended solids, and she conducted the research in collaboration with several condensed matter physicists. Regan’s group made the materials, while the physicists made measurements on the properties. “So I feel quite at home interacting with physicists,” she says, which made the transition from an academic chemistry department to the public affairs division of a physics society that much easier.
When she began her graduate studies, Regan intended to pursue the usual academic career track: a faculty position at a university, and head of her own research group. But she decided she wanted her career to have a larger impact on society, rather than focusing narrowly on a specific problem in chemical physics. Science policy struck her as an excellent means of combining her scientific expertise with her desire to have a positive impact on the world at large. It has meant learning an entirely different terminology, and familiarizing herself with the major players in the US House and Senate, but Regan says she has found the process both educational and invigorating.
In addition to the fledgling district advocate program, Regan handles general outreach to APS members, and is organizing a large Congressional visit event in conjunction with the 2006 APS March Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland. The goal is to get between 250 and 300 physicists to take time away from the conference to meet with their Congressional representatives and make the case for how science is relevant to every aspect of society, from driving the economy to improving national security. “People don’t realize how much their lives are influenced by scientific discovery,” she says. “It truly is everywhere. The smallest discoveries can have a major impact even 50 years down the road.”
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