The Optical Society, SPIE, and the Materials Research Society (MRS) announced their 2013-2014 US Congressional Science and Engineering Fellows, including Novus Media Today Group’s Contributing Editor, Sydney Kaufman.
After being awarded her PhD from University of Colorado (CU) in Boulder,Colorado (US), Sydney will head to Washington, DC in September to serve a one-year term as a, OSA/MRS Congressional Science fellow.
When Sydney joined the Novus Media team back in 2011, her first article for Solar Novus Today was “Solar Policy in the US.” She has been interested in the intersection of science and society since she worked on rural energy issues in Alaska. She said that through that work she was exposed to how people interact with their energy supplies. “It got me interested in public policy. It also forced me to be more of a pragmatist and think about the issues of energy (especially renewable energy) from a more complete view."
After her work in Alaska, Sydney went to graduate school at CU, where in 2010, she became co-director of the Forum on Science Ethics and Policy (FOSEP), which is a grad student, post-doc, and professional student organization. Sydney said the goal of FOSEP is to increase the dialog between scientists, policymakers, and the public.
In addition to her work with FOSEP, Sydney concentrated on the skill of being able to distill scientific information so that it is accessible to any audience. "Through grad school I have tried to develop that skill through writing, taking classes toward the energy certificate, FOSEP, and outreach I have done with kids in the Boulder area. As grad students, the opportunities to hone those skills are not always easily accessible."
Getting the job
It’s not easy getting an OSA/MRS Congressional Science fellowship, so we asked Sydney how she prepared and if there was anything in particular that put her in the lead. She said that in the weeks leading up to the interview, she had to prepare a one-page policy brief on an aspect of immigration reform. She said that prior to writing the brief, she knew little about the topic. “They threw a lot of questions at me and I was able to adapt to the scenarios they presented.”
Syndey also noted that her writing for Solar Novus Today and Novus Light Technologies Today certainly played a big role in getting the fellowship. “I think that overall, having a lot of experience communicating science to a non-technical audience was very important to them, so I tried to stress that in my resume and in my application essay.”
As a Congressional fellow, activities may involve conducting legislative or oversight work, assisting in congressional hearings and debates and preparing briefs and writing speeches. Sydney very much enjoys writing briefs, which she discovered by writing a few in policy classes she took at CU. “It is similar to what I do when writing articles for Solar Novus and Novus Light. I do a lot of research, try to decipher the salient points, and communicate it in a way that is easy to understand and hopefully, interesting. I would love to write speeches too, although it may take some time for me to develop the right voice.“
Before heading off to Washington, however, Sydney will be busy writing the thesis for her PhD and then defending it in a few weeks. Her research is on photodissociation spectroscopy of transition metal salts. Asked about the correlation between the subject of her research and her work in Washington, she said that while the subject of her research may not come up directly, she has learned a way of thinking and tackling problems that will serve her well. “Grad students are expected to do independent scientific research, but also synthesize the research of others, and add to the scientific dialog. Learning to think independently, without textbooks to turn to ... is probably the greatest asset I have gained in grad school.”
Not surprisingly, the OSA/MRS fellowship is not the first that Sydney has been awarded. She received a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship in her second year in grad school. While she has had some research published and presented at a few conferences, she said that what she is most proud of has been her ability to seek out other educational and leadership opportunities while in grad school. “At CU, I received an energy certificate (like a minor) through the Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute (RASEI), a joint institute between CU and the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL).”
During her fellowship, Kaufman is interested in working on energy development policy and increasing the participation of underrepresented groups in the STEM fields “I hope that after my fellowship year, I feel like I have made some contribution to the science policy dialog and been a helpful part of a team.” And she’s excited to be able to learn about civics “from the inside.” She said that after spending her whole educational career up until now as a scientist, “I really know very little about how the government and law-making works.”
As to her future career goals beyond the OSA/MRS Science fellowship, Sydney sees herself continuing with science policy work. “I am very interested in renewable energy policy in rural in developing areas both in the US and abroad. I also really love Colorado and we have a very progressive energy policy here (which I have written about in a number of my articles on Solar Novus). I think it would be very interesting to work in State Government.”
For people interested in science policy, Sydney said the AAAS fellowships are where they almost always start. They have a very impressive list of former fellows who have gone on to all branches of government. “I’m very enthusiastic about the job; being a Congressional Fellow is my dream job”
Written by Anne Fischer, Novus Light Technologies Today