Spending a Week on the Hill with the Caltech Y

There are many parallels between science and politics. For instance, the push for greater gender, racial, and ethnic diversity is stronger than ever, and the need for better communication to restore public trust is growing across both these sectors. Through the Caltech Y's Washington, D.C. Science Policy Trip, 25 of us had the incredible opportunity to meet with policy makers, science advisors, and lobbyists. Through presentations and round-table discussions, we learned about the intersection of science and public policy, as well as our role in the transitional political landscape. We kicked off our arrival in D.C. with an alumni mixer – a surprising numbers of Techers find their way to the Capitol through programs like the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) fellowship. It was a fun and enjoyable event to get a taste of programming to come.

On our first full day, we met with directors and fellows at the Department of Energy (DOE) and the AAAS. Steven Winberg, the Assistant Secretary of Fossil Energy, along with other members of his staff shared their efforts in making coal a safer, cleaner and efficient source of energy. We also discussed the potential in renewables and learned about the flow of human capital and resources across departments within the organization. At AAAS, we met with Rush Holt (Chief Executive Officer), Joanne Carney (Director, Government Relations), and Erin Heath (Associate Director, Government Relations) who emphasized the importance for scientists to be advocates for science. Scientists are conditioned to embrace the uncertainty in answers to various problems while much of the population would rather see absolutes. To bridge this gap, we must help strengthen science education and the public's understanding of the value of science.

Through presentations and round-table discussions, we learned about the intersection of science and public policy, as well as our role in the transitional political landscape.

In the following days, we visited Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Office of Science and Technology Policy at the White House (OSTP) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In the evenings, we met with fellows and new professionals for informative sessions, including:

  • Rebecca Adler Misserendino (State Department)

  • Yi Pei (Office of Management and Budget)

  • Fadl Saadi (ARPA-E)

  • Caltech lobbyist Michael Ledford

  • John Andelin, former Assistant Director at the Office of Tech Assessment (OTA),

  • Mike Nelson, former science advisor to Vice President Gore

  • Bill Colglazier, former science advisor to Secretaries of State Clinton and Kerry

Dr. Steven Walker and Dr. Peter Highnam, Director and Deputy Director of DARPA, talked to us about the role of project managers and programs. For four years, project managers work on an innovative project they are passionate about. W