AMS Summer Policy Colloquium–An Investment in Your Future

January 27, 2016 · 0 comments

One of the special, life-shaping mid-career experiences AMS offers is the  Summer Policy Colloquium in Washington, D.C. The AMS Policy Program is accepting registrations now for the 2016 Colloquium, held 5-14 June; don’t delay, because the slots fill up well in advance. Grad students (and faculty from minority-serving institutions) can apply for NSF support to attend. The deadline for those funding applications is 31 March.

Here we share the first-hand impressions of a graduate student who attended last year’s colloquium.

by Alice Alpert, MIT/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution 

My favorite moment was adding the “poison pill” amendment to the amended HR2380 to ensure that the opposing party could not vote yes on it. I doubt that real senators laugh as much as we did. “We” were the participants of the 2015 AMS Summer Policy Colloquium – scientists and federal agency employees studying weather, water, and climate. Every year, AMS hosts this 10-day intensive program designed to give attendees an intensive introduction to the policy process.

Over the 10 days, we learned about and engaged with science policy through talks by current practitioners and hands-on activities. Each day focused on a different topic, including an introduction to science policy; practical perspectives from executive, legislative, diplomatic, private, and nonprofit sectors; science communication; and executive leadership. Speakers from throughout the federal government and beyond described their personal career paths, discussed how they practice science policy, and dispensed nuggets of advice. Woven throughout the event were practical simulations, including a role-playing activity of the legislative process in which we amended a bill and negotiated for a final vote. In the end my senator’s poison pill was misguided, but the lesson was not lost.

There are many aspects contributing to the great success of the policy colloquium that together create an immersive and exhilarating learning environment. Instrumental to the experience is the leadership of the AMS staff, Bill Hooke, Ya’el Seid-Green, and Paul Higgins. They meticulously but flexibly plan the event, reach out to high-level public servants, listen carefully to feedback, and most of all show a profound respect for the participants.

Another key ingredient is the invited speakers from high levels of government. They provide concrete examples of what science policy is and what it means both in day-to-day activities and in larger abstract goals. From my own perspective, embarking upon a career in science policy from a PhD is difficult because there is no one specific path to take, and indeed it is hard to see any from within academia. The speakers in the SPC program, from a former Congressman to senior White House advisors to agency heads, provide examples of specific roles and make a future in science policy much clearer. They often started out with similar paths to those of the participants, and in many cases are actually colloquium alumni who launched a career from this program. Their words were inspiring and will remain with me in the years to come.

The last ingredient is the participants themselves, coming at a range of career stages from academia, federal agencies, and the private sector. Our range of backgrounds and experiences meant we could provide each other valuable perspectives. Many of us in academia feel like we do not quite fit in, and we are our own greatest resource in connecting with each other to create a pool of support. It was exhilarating to meet the people who I am sure will become my colleagues.

This program is an incredible investment both for the future of policy for science and science for policy. It develops the links to strengthen financial support for the work of the scientific community as well as enhances our ability to produce science that serves society.

Personally, I have planned to enter science policy since before I started my doctoral studies. I have been involved in student policy groups, participated in congressional visit days, done oh-so-many informational interviews, taken relevant classes, and researched policy fellowships. But all that did not illuminate the world of science policy in the way the AMS Summer Policy Colloquium did. I found role models, and discovered in myself a voice that I had never heard before. I return to my PhD research energized and eagerly anticipating a future in science policy.