Today is my last day as a Mirzayan Science and Technology Policy Fellow at The National Academies. The Program, and the extension I got, is now complete after 101 days. I knew about it like one year ago, and I decided to apply for it. Back then, I could not find much info or public feedback from former fellows. There is a great official webpage with lots of info, but I wanted real feedback from people. Here is mine, for the next to come, and everyone else.
I haven't talked much about my work here. Most internal work at the Academies is actually bonded to confidentially to safeguard the integrity of the process. I talked with the director of the program to understand where the line was. It turns out that anything that could be public, must be public for transparency, but it was not my duty, or desire, to liveblog my fellowship. I was actually glad to find out that The Academies is very proactive and open to new technologies and open access: Free pdf reports, responsive Tweet accounts, active Facebook pages, ...
This Fellowships aims to “engage its Fellows in the analytical process that informs U.S. science and technology policy”. Most of the incoming fellows share a similar story: We were all scientist doing research, but we all felt attracted towards science policy. That is, how science and technology interacts with society and governments. From investigation of facts that inform policymakers, recommendations for funding of science itself or applying scientific knowledge and consensus to the development of policy goals.
Some random selection of things I´ve done during these great 101 days include:
- Learn about what actually "the National Academies" is, what they do, what they did, the impact, controversial studies, ...
- Understand and collaborate into different stages of the study process. This the base of Academies' reputation for providing independent, objective, and nonpartisan advice with high standards of scientific and technical quality. This is quite a complex process, but extremely important. There is no report for the Academies that has been refuted, showed biased or debunked. And they produce around 200 reports every year. In my case I could collaborate closest to the Heliophyscal strategic decadal plan, but I also got to know about many other ones.
- Attend open and closed sessions, committee meetings, briefings, Congress hearings. Visit the Senate and House chambers, the White House, and many other institutions and NGO that organize zillions of events in science and technology policy. DC is the city for this.
- Meet and chat with two astronauts: James_A._Pawelczyk and Ken_Bowersox. They are really nice people. Talking to them I could not help it but remember that I once tried that path. Also with an astronomy celebrity (star?) from my childhood. The astrophysicist on the 'Space' video series from the 90s: Gregory_Benford.
- Attend dozens of sessions about extremely interesting topics and reports. Among them: Learning how to communicate controversial science, Science and creationism, The state of forensic science, the impact of the new Congress after the elections, Engineers without Borders, GBEC meetings or a TSA briefing about airport screenings, the role of Science advisory in developing countries...
- Get to read tons of reports on a wild variety of topics. I made some posts about them here in my blog.
- A totally unexpected, but very much welcomed, visit to Space X.
- The opportunity to learn and write a white paper about 'Crowdsourcing Development', and 'User Generated Content'. An new approach to manage complex information that is just unleashing.
- Remember that your main goal here is to learn about science policy. They want you to become advocates of the Academies after you finish. Learn, learn learn. Talk with everyone, walk around the building, ask questions. Pick up reports and read or skim them. You will be part of an amazing institution full of extremely friendly people. Don´t hesitate, enjoy it.
- Your board chose most likely because your background fits into one of their current projects. Be involved with it. Since you most likely know the field, it will be easier for you to learn the policy part through that project.
- All around the building there are screen will all the meetings for the day. Each morning stop by, look at them and find out the most interesting. Ask the responsible if you can join, most likely you will be able. Even closed sessions. Just honor the confidentiality rules.
- Don't tweet or blog anything said during closed or open session. Don't post personal comments on those either. What you can do is to mention and share information that is already public. Like announcements of open sessions, webcasts and the like. I did tweet some, you can search for the #mirzayan hashtag on Twitter.
- Get to know your fellow fellows. They all have amazing histories. They are all committed to the same objective, and very very smart. I truly respect and trust all of my fellow fellows. They are amazing.
- And above all, enjoy.