Scientists and lawmakers have an opportunity to learn from each other in the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) Science and Technology Policy Fellowship program, which provides researchers with one-year positions working in the U.S. government.
The purpose: to enable lawmakers to consult with scientists about technical issues while drafting public policy and to provide scientists with experience shaping federal policy. The ultimate aim is to promote positive contact between lawmakers and scientists. APS annually sponsors one or two scientists in the program.
Working Energy Issues
This year, APS is sponsoring Virginia Corless, who is working on the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee, and Arti Garg, who is working on the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade.
Corless received her undergraduate degree in physics at MIT and earned a Ph.D. in astrophysics at Cambridge in 2009. She spent the next year doing postdoctoral work in Munich at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, researching the gravitational lensing effects of irregularly shaped intergalactic objects.
At MIT, she minored in applied international studies and took several political science and theater classes. While at Cambridge, she directed a reinterpreted production of the 10th-century miracle play Dulcitius.
Corless sought to combine her background in physics with other fields and travel. During the summer of 2002, she taught biology to students in China through MIT’s China Educational Technology Initiative. In the summer of 2004, she won a fellowship from the MIT International Science & Technology Initiatives program to study globular clusters at the Osservatorio Astronomico di Roma in Italy.
While working on her Ph.D., she spent a month in Washington D.C. in an internship at the Science and Technology Policy Institute under the Institute for Defense Analyses.
“Science policy is a place where so many things intersect,” she said.
On the Energy & Natural Resource Committee, Corless has been tasked with a range of energy policy issues, including energy technology. In carrying out her duties, she works with the Department of Energy, United States Agency for International Development and the Commerce Department.
After the fellowship ends in August, Corless said that she hopes to continue working on international energy issues. She said ultimately she hopes to help spread the next generation of energy technology to the developing world.
Fusing Science and Policy
Arti Garg said that her fellowship on the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, & Trade has given her the chance to offer more scientific input into internationally focused legislation.
Garg received her bachelor’s of science degree in physics along with a bachelor’s of arts in English from Stanford University. She also earned a master’s in aeronautical and astronautical engineering at Stanford before attending the University of Washington, where she earned a second master’s (this time in physics). She obtained a Ph.D. in physics from Harvard in 2008.
After defending her thesis, Garg did postdoctoral work at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. She also worked at the Institute for Geophysics and Planetary Physics, and the Center for Global Security Research, where she worked on developing a remote surveillance system.
For the congressional fellowship, Garg works as a science legislative assistant, and her duties include preparing background material, setting up hearings, organizing briefings and working on legislation.
“I felt that there were a lot of policy-related issues that have a lot of technological underpinnings,” she said about why she first applied for the program. “There’s a lot of stuff that happens in Washington, and a lot of it affects science.”
She learned about the Congressional Science Fellowship while working as a science policy fellow at the National Academies. Before beginning her assignment with the National Academies, Garg didn’t have much of a background in public policy. She had only taken one U.S. political science course as an undergraduate. Later, she took a course taught by Presidential Science Adviser John Holdren at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
Her research in astrophysics took her to the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory and Las Campanas Observatory in Chile, where she learned how international policies affected people’s lives, including how the observatories are run; who are issued visas to work; and how Chile used telescopes to strengthen its research base.