We are so excited to welcome Jena to our writing team! She's a materials science PhD student at Duke University and will be writing about a broad range of topics. Welcome, Jena!
Being a female graduate student in a male-dominated STEM field can be an isolating experience at times. So when Chloe and I met this past year, I was so excited to find such an awesome and interesting friend. She came to Duke as a graduate student in the same department (Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science), and we quickly hit it off over our shared love of going to local concerts, hanging out at coffee shops, and discussing the latest happenings in the worlds of pop culture and feminism. In addition, her smart sense of humor, kindness, and willingness to be my hot yoga buddy cemented our friendship. As an undergraduate, she studied Marine Science and Math at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, and is originally from the Boston area. Now half way through her Master of Engineering (M. Eng.) degree (Don’t leave me Chloe! What will I do without you!?), she is working at the Science and Technology Policy Institute (STPI) in Washington, DC this summer.
Over this past year, I’ve been dealing with the difficulty of being a PhD student and realizing that a research/academia-oriented career may not be a great fit for me. It was great to have a friend who was going through a similar experience. During this time, I began to realize that my interests and passions were at the intersection of advocacy, public policy and science (science policy in a nutshell). So I took some time to catch up with Chloe over Face Time and email so we could talk about her background in environmental science, how she became interested in science policy, and what she’s doing at STPI this summer.
Chloe: Prior to this summer, all of my work experience had been on a boat and/or in a research laboratory. During undergrad, I began working closely on research connected to the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill in August of my freshman year in a trace metal marine geochemistry laboratory. Studying the oil spill really allowed me to observe firsthand the immediate effects of an irresponsible fossil fuel industry and made me want to be a part of solving the energy crisis and lessen dependence on nonrenewable resources. I realized how critical it was for scientists to continually examine the effects of the spill and alert policy makers and the public to initiatives that may restrict further harm to the Gulf ecosystem. Last spring, I participated in the semester abroad program "Energy and the Ocean Environment" through Sea Education Association (SEA). That following summer, I interned at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, WA as a NOAA Hollings Scholar to study the physiological effects of ocean acidification on pteropods. Researching the effects of the oil spill and ocean acidification showed me how important it is to understand how natural systems respond and are effected by these events.
Jena: So in addition to everything you learned during your awesome research and internship experiences, can you talk a bit about what else influenced your decision to pursue your current degree (Master of Engineering, or MEng) versus the more traditional, research-oriented Masters degree? What are the main differences between them?
Chloe: The biggest reason why I chose to pursue an M. Eng. degree rather than an MS degree was so that I could use my intermediate summer (between my first and second years in grad school) to gain experience outside of a research laboratory. [Author’s note: one of the requirements for the M.Eng. degree is a summer internship] It was a really good decision for me – I’ve been very happy with my internship at STPI and gaining experience in the policy arena has helped me gain a more informed perspective on what I would like to do after my masters degree.
Jena: How would you describe STPI and the kind of work it does?
Chloe: The Science and Technology Policy Institute (STPI) is a Federally Funded Research and Development Center administered by the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA). STPI provides technical expertise and policy analysis to the White House Office and Science and Technology Policy and other science-conducting agencies of the federal government.
Jena: So, what is your specific position and what does it entail?
Chloe: As a Summer Associate, I work with PhDs, JDs, and other science policy experts to create objective and analytical reports regarding domestic and international science/technology policy issues for the White House and other Federal agencies. Since my background is in oceanography and ocean acidification, I’ve been working on projects concerning climate change, earth observation systems, and other environmental topics.
Jena: Very cool! So what’s a typical day in the life like for you right now?
Chloe: Being part of a federal agency, my internship is very much like a 9-5 job that includes lots of meetings, research, and spreadsheets.
Jena: When it comes to science policy, when and how did you start to realize that it was something you were interested in? How did you become interested in science policy?
Chloe: I first became interested in science policy in order to apply both my environmental science and engineering experiences to issues that concern both people and the environment. I wanted my work to more directly address human needs – ideally human rights concerns – than my previous research projects had. Science policy, and particularly STPI, seemed like a good avenue to both address relevant human needs questions as wells as maintain my position as an objective, analytical researcher. The same motivators that led me to apply for my engineering degree also led me to branch out into policy: I want the focus of my work to directly benefit both people and the natural environment. However, my preference for analytical writing over coding led me to focus my summer internship applications on science policy and writing positions at nonprofits and government institutions rather than engineering positions in the industrial sector.
I first became interested in science policy in order to apply both my environmental science and engineering experiences to issues that concern both people and the environment. I wanted my work to more directly address human needs – ideally human rights concerns – than my previous research projects had."
Chloe: In addition to my required engineering courses, I also enroll in one environmental studies class each semester. I highly value my liberal arts education from my undergraduate school, and I want to take advantage of Duke’s diverse learning opportunities as much as possible. Probably what I’ve enjoyed most about my environmental studies courses at Duke is that I’ve been able to practice and improve my analytical writing skills while continuing my environmental science focus from undergrad. These courses have made me realize how much I enjoy analytical writing, which was one of my drivers into the policy field. So far I’ve taken “Environmental Megatrends” and “Environmental Politics” and I’m currently registered to take “Global Environmental Health” next semester.
Chloe: I have no idea where I want to be in 20 years! I graduate from my masters program in a few months, and my recent job search directions have ranged from continuing a career in science policy, to switching to the nonprofit sector, to switching back to oceanography and hopping on a boat bound for Antarctica. My general long-term career goals are to (a) continue exploring climate change causes and effects from both the STEM and human perspectives and (b) contribute to the field such that I promote environmental health while working to ameliorate the effects of climate change on the most vulnerable populations and fragile regions. I’m not yet sure how to best work towards these goals, but they are at the forefront of all my career decisions.
Jena: One last question! Outside of your work in science policy/finishing up your masters degree, what do you do for fun?
Chloe: I fill my free time with concerts, superhero movies, and books. The RTP area (Research Triangle Park, in North Carolina) has a wonderful music scene that I take advantage of as often as I can. Recently one of my favorite indie rappers, Astronautalis, performed in Raleigh. I have not yet seen Ant-Man, but the Deadpool movie next year looks incredible, and I’m looking forward to next season of Agent Carter. I’m currently reading Angela Carter’s book of modified fairy tales, “The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories”. And, of course, I’d always rather be on a boat. I started sailing small dinghies when I was 10, was co-captain of my high school sailing team, and experienced an incredible 6 weeks at sea aboard the SSV Robert C. Seamans on a semester abroad with the Sea Education Association. Lately I’ve been considering joining a club rowing team wherever I settle down after graduation in December.
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