Science Policy Fellows program nurtures effective interdisciplinary scholars

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a student giving presentation on her project

In its fourth year, the program continues attracting top students in STEM disciplines to explore the policy relevance and implications of their dissertation research

By Rachel Hommel | GPS News

Science Policy FellowsScience and policy have long had a symbiotic relationship. The Science Policy Fellows program at the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy (GPS) creates bridges within the campus academic community. These scholars are setting the way for a bright future, from the impact of biomass burning in Western Africa to creating 3D imaging for life saving medical devices. At the core of each project, policy plays a pivotal role.

“Our goal is to take some of the best students at UC San Diego who are interested in the policy applications and implications of their research and pair them with GPS faculty so they can explore the connection between their science and the policy its related to,” said GPS Assistant Professor Jennifer Burney.

As young scientists developing their own research path, the Science Policy Fellows program offers deep intellectual engagement and one-of-a kind mentorship. Selected Ph.D. students get a chance to expand their technical expertise, while being paired alongside top policy scholars. With nine faculty participating since the program’s inception, the relationships built have been foundational and long-lasting, on both sides.

This year’s group of fellows’ work touches on key topics within UC San Diego’s areas of excellence: engineering, medicine, marine and earth sciences, all with an innovative spirit and policy focus.

“This program would not be possible without your willingness to experiment in your career,” addressed Dean Peter Cowhey to this year’s cohort. “You are very much part of our efforts at GPS to nurture a deep level of intellectual engagement in policy, with real world solutions.”

Science Policy FellowsThe fellows all echoed the importance of multi-disciplinary mentorship, which can offer constructive new ways of looking at problems. For this year’s fellows, something wonderful happens when you get outside your comfort zone. In the realm of medical devices, there are major risks implementing innovative technology as Karcher Morris, Ph.D. candidate at Jacobs School of Engineering, has discovered.

By addressing the regulatory landscape surrounding 3D printing medical devices, the program has provided greater motivation and insight on how to connect his current research with policymakers in the industry, as well as the impact it can yield.

“The Science Policy Fellows program has pushed me further to explore how technology and the regulatory policy around it affect innovation in the medical device community,” said Morris. “Great ideas and significant outcomes can result from interdisciplinary studies.”

Addressing today’s global challenges, fellows learn how to communicate outside of the sciences, becoming not only stronger researchers but global citizens primed for policy work. Getting out of the lab, they learn how their work will impact society, supported and energized by their faculty mentors.

Science Policy FellowsWorking alongside Assistant Professor Kate Ricke and Jennifer Burney, Meredith Fish, Ph.D. candidate at Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO), was thrilled to foster connections across the disciplines, connecting with leading experts in climate research to address atmospheric rivers and how policy can assist in making tradeoffs between managing flood and drought risks.

“Dive in, learn as much as you can about your science and the policies that effect it,” said Fish. “Use your faculty mentor. They are an outstanding source of knowledge and passion that are interested in you, your research and helping you develop a project!”

The opportunity to venture outside the limits of their thesis has proven incredibly insightful, opening up research into new territories where their technical expertise can be enriched by real world applications. Such is the case for Kaitlyn Lowder, a Ph.D. candidate at SIO who’s research focuses on ocean acidification and saving the California spiny lobster.

“This program gave me the opportunity to learn and research very differently than I have for my Ph.D.,” said Lowder. “Working on my GPS project has provided the opportunity to try a line of inquiry that I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to do.”

Lowder’s mentor Assistant Professor Gordon McCord added that he believes it’s absolutely critical that natural science students get faculty support outside their disciplines.

Science Policy Fellows“This gives them an intellectual learning process in public policy that is so necessary to become effective interdisciplinary scholars,” said McCord.

In his second year, Osinachi Ajoku, Ph.D. candidate at SIO, can attest to the program’s global reach, looking at the impact of biomass burning on African climates and their inhabitants. Considered an aerosol scientist, his work extends beyond pure physics, touching the lives of the 200 million people in his home country of Nigeria.

“I thought being a scientist was all about numbers but the program has really expanded my awareness of the human impact of my research,” said Ajoku. “My advice to other fellows is think big. Don’t be afraid to make your research personal.”

The application deadline for next year’s Science Policy Fellows program is Sept. 1, 2018. For more information, including how to apply, please contact GPS Assistant Dean Wendy Hunter Barker and join the program listserv.

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