Oceanography Ph.D. Candidate Engages Policy Crash Course in D.C.

Jul 11, 2017

COLLEGE STATION, July 11, 2017. Doctoral Candidate Andrea Kealoha discusses her science policy experience in DC over the summer.

Designing and conducting experiments, interpreting data, and integrating criticisms (i.e. the scientific method), while certainly challenging, is not the culmination of scientific truth per se. If new scientific developments are going to have tangible effects on society, then communicating findings clearly and confidently is key.

Oceanography Ph.D. Candidate Andrea Kealoha of Maui, Hawaii spent two weeks of her summer in Washington, D.C. to explore the policy side of the scientific endeavor through the Science Outside the Lab workshop with funding assistance from Texas A&M University System – Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (TAMUS AGEP) program, supported by the National Science Foundation.

One of the major career fields for scientists is policy making: engaging politicians, regulators, activists, and lobbyists on scientific issues. Each day, federal employees and experts from the private, nonprofit, and consulting sectors shared the goals, experiences and insights with attendees. Much of the learning came through thoughtful questions posed by Kealoha and compatriots. After all, communication is a two-way street.

Among the most time-consuming and complex topics covered at the workshop was the federal budget and how it relates to research and development. The participants got a crash course in understanding past budgets, how they’ve changed over time, and the players involved in the budget process. “It was especially interesting, given the new administration,” Kealoha said. For example, the Trump Administration has made funding the Department of Defense a priority, but has left the Office of Science and Technology Policy greatly understaffed compared to the Obama years.

“Being confident in what we know” and cultivating the ability to communicate were the major themes of the experience. With new scientific contacts from around the nation and a first-hand look at the national science policy discussion, Kealoha is more invigorated than ever to conduct good research and tell the world about it. “We need to communicate our research in a way that policy makers can then create specific, tangible policies. If nobody understands us, then what we do isn’t worthwhile.”

*Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.*

Update: this article was updated to include funding source and NSF disclaimer.

By: Vance Nygard