Career Paths

What’s a Nice Chemist Like You Doing in Science Policy

Stephanie DeLuca

The American Chemical Society offers students and postdoctoral fellows a number of opportunities to ex­pand their skills beyond the bench and into the policy arena.

The first of these opportunities is the sponsorship of two Congressional Fellows to work on Capitol Hill. These fellows provide science expertise to Washington, D.C., policymakers regard­ing issues such as energy, national se­curity, water resources, climate change, science education, and many more. One such fellow, Emily Lewis, shares her recent experiences from 2015 below. She completed her Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry at Tufts Univer­sity in the field of surface science, and also holds a B.S. and M.S. in Chemistry from Northeastern University. She is an active ACS member, serving as chair of the ACS Northeast Local Section’s Younger Chemists Committee.

“The Science Policy Fellow works in the ACS Office of Public Affairs for a one or two-year stint, gaining a valuable exposure to the wide spectrum of public policy activities.”

The second of these opportuni­ties to gain public policy experience is the ACS Science Policy Fellowship. The Science Policy Fellow works in the ACS Office of Public Affairs for a one or two-year stint, gaining a valuable exposure to the wide spectrum of public policy activities. Stephanie DeLuca is a current ACS Science Policy fellow, who com­pleted her Ph.D. in Chemical and Physi­cal Biology from Vanderbilt University, where she developed novel protein modelling methods for a software suite used by scientists worldwide. DeLuca also holds a B.S. in Chemistry with a concentration in Biochemistry from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She has received many awards and hon­ors, including a Fulbright Scholarship for pre-doctoral work at the Justus-Li­ebig University in Giessen, Germany.

If you like what you hear from their experiences, the fellowship applications are due January 15, 2016. The actual fellowships run for one year, generally from September to September. More information about the fellowships and the application process can be found at https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/policy/policyfellowships.html.

Two ACS Fellows share their expe­riences below.

Emily Lewis, ACS Congressional Fellow, (2014-15)

Just before the U.S. House of Represen­tatives recessed for the summer, I intro­duced a bill for a member of Congress. It was the last day the House was in session during my fellowship. Although I worked on many projects throughout my stay on the Hill, including preparing hearing materials and writing letters, introducing the bill was the culmina­tion of my year’s work; it was one of the first projects I started, and the last one I completed.

Introducing the bill was also one of the most educational experiences I had during my time on the Democratic Staff of the U.S. House of Representa­tives Committee on Natural Resources. To successfully complete the bill, I had to develop the original concept from a nebulous idea into legislative text. This involved learning the background mate­rial; collaborating with policy experts from the Congressional Research Ser­vice, stakeholder groups, and govern­ment agencies; and working with the House Legislative Counsel to perfect the legal language. I learned that writ­ing a bill is not a one-person job.

“Introducing the bill definitely provided the grand finale to my tenure on the Hill...”

The result of this collaborative process was a comprehensive piece of legislation that was thoroughly vetted and founded in good science. Although my subject training as a physical chem­ist did not come to the fore during the work, my skills as a researcher— one who strives to fully understand a problem and analyze solutions—were definitely put to use. It was exciting to apply these skills in a new context, and I gained a new appreciation for my time in the lab after seeing how I can use these research abilities in a nontra­ditional setting.

Introducing the bill definitely pro­vided the grand finale to my tenure on the Hill, and finishing the project has allowed me to reflect on the breadth of knowledge I have gained. The fellow­ship undoubtedly provided me with a once-in-a-lifetime chance to experi­ence how policy is developed, and I would confidently recommend it to any scientist seeking to shift his or her career trajectory out of the lab and into the policy world.

Stephanie DeLuca, ACS Science Policy Fellow, (2015-16)

I wear many hats as the ACS Science Policy Fellow. I track the S&T budgets for NIH, NSF, and DOE, monitor execu­tive branch activities, and keep abreast of reports and policy developments related to the chemical enterprise. Dur­ing the 2015 ACS Legislative Summit, I accompanied ACS Board members to meetings at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the DOE, the NSF, and the National Nanotechnology Coordinating Office (NNCO), where we learned about ef­forts to reorganize federal STEM and sustainability programs.

I have contributed to ACS policy statement development, too. The ACS recently adopted a policy statement, “U. N. Convention of Persons with Disabili­ties,” which I assisted heavily in drafting. I also helped write an ACS press release urging the President and Congress to in­vest in S&T by lifting the federal budget caps set in place by sequestration. In ad­dition, I am organizing an ACS Science & the Congress briefing on people with disabilities in the STEM and healthcare workforce, which will help inform Con­gressional members and staff about an issue of growing importance, given the aging workforce.

One aspect of working at ACS that I enjoy is the breadth of the society’s activities and policy coverage. This al­lows me to learn about the many facets of public policy and gain a unique perspective from the nongovernmental organization (NGO) point of view. ACS is a complex organization, and it can be overwhelming to understand how all of its parts work synergistically to form ACS as a world-renowned organiza­tion. Indeed, one unexpected advantage of working for ACS, the world’s largest scientific society, is that it is held in high esteem in the policy realm.

Going forward, I am excited to apply what I have learned so far and focus it on my individual project, which is assessing the policy implications of synthetic biology for the chemical com­munity. This is a fast-moving field with great potential for medicine, agriculture, energy, and national security. At the same time, it needs appropriate over­sight in order to ensure that research takes place responsibly. I also look forward to contributing much more to ACS’s important public policy efforts and to planning my next career steps.

As I reflect on my first year as an ACS Science Policy Fellow, I am aston­ished by how quickly time has passed. The experience thus far has certainly surpassed my expectations and never ceases to surprise me.

This article was originally published in the December 2015 issue. 

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