Jen Chase, PhD, is a member of the 2017 Class of CCST Science & Technology Policy Fellows. She received her PhD in Cellular and Molecular Biology from the University of Michigan, studying the genes which instruct stem cells to form blood cells in humans. She completed her BS in Biochemistry and BA in Spanish at South Dakota State University. Chase’s fellowship placement is with the California State Assembly Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection and Assemblymember Ed Chau (D-Monterey Park), Committee Chair.
Joining the Assembly Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection in December, I spent the first couple months of my fellowship learning about the committee’s topic areas and researching bill ideas.
My background is in cellular and molecular biology, but for my Assembly placement, I quickly had to become versed in the world of emerging technology and big data. I started reading about topics like cybersecurity, drones, and the “internet of things”. And just like how molecular biologists speak in our own technical jargon, so too does the information technology world — and I found myself making a spreadsheet to remember all the different acronyms associated with this policy area, so new to me at the time.
This afforded time to get caught up on my new subject matter was invaluable. It truly prepared me for the hectic schedule that would come in March — something which was hinted at during our November training at CCST.
During our “policy boot camp” for the 2017 Science Fellows, we played a game where we had to piece together the California legislative calendar. We had just been taught the importance of the “leg calendar” (that’s pronounced “ledge” by the way) and all the rules associated with each deadline. These deadlines are critical to ensure that the bills can be appropriately analyzed in a policy committee, voted on the floor of one chamber, and cross over to the other chamber to repeat the cycle.
Our class was split into two teams, and each tried to assemble these calendar deadlines into the correct chronological sequence — and neither team managed a perfect score. But these days, we know those deadlines in our sleep. We understand California’s legislative process how it revolves around these dates, and we understand that bills that miss specific deadlines can get stuck and effectively “die” until the next legislative year.
In addition to my duties for the Privacy Committee, I have also been fortunate to get to staff a bill for Assemblymember Chau, my Committee Chair.
“Staffing a bill” means shepherding a bill through the legislative process — through each of those calendar deadlines. This experience has given me the opportunity to spend time in a “personal office” (Capitol jargon for the office of an elected member, versus that of a committee) and learn how they operate. When you staff a bill, it is your job to convene stakeholders who are interested in the topic and to listen to their opinions. Negotiation and compromise are critical components of the legislative process — and I quickly learned whom I should be talking to, and how to carefully navigate this terrain of diplomacy and outreach.
What I like most about the CCST Science & Technology Policy Fellowship so far is how much I have learned in just a matter of months. In contrast to graduate school, where I was an expert in one very specific topic, I now love the thrill of learning about many new areas at once.
As a committee consultant, I get to analyze bills that cover a wide variety of topics. Privacy and consumer protection issues touch on so many aspects of our society, so incoming bills to our committee can have wildly different contexts and intended effects. When I get a new piece of legislation to analyze, I treat it like a new puzzle to solve. What does the bill do? What does the author intend the bill to do? What is the current law and how does the bill change it? These are all critical questions and conversations with the bill author’s office and stakeholders help shape the analysis. My job as a committee consultant helps ensure that any bill that leaves our committee (and onto the next step in the leg calendar) is technically sound and thoroughly analyzed, so that members have the best available information to decide their vote.
My transition from academia to science policy has been easier than I anticipated. The California State Capitol is a welcoming place for CCST Science Fellows. As the eighth class of the fellowship, many legislators and staff are familiar with our program and have worked with CCST Science Fellows in the past. The Capitol is full of former CCST Science Fellows who provide invaluable resources and advice, and my coworkers in the committee and personal office also have been wonderful mentors, always patiently answering my many questions. Most importantly, I survived the busy months of March and April — and now, I get to see whether any of the bills I am staffing survive the legislative process, and maybe even get signed into law by the Governor in the fall.
Until then, I’ll be reading up on yet another new topic for the next bill I need to analyze — and learning a few more acronyms along the way.
— Jen Chase
The CCST Science & Technology Policy Fellowship trains scientific thinkers to be policy-savvy, while helping equip California’s lawmakers with science-savvy staff. Follow updates from the CCST Science Fellows on Facebook at facebook.com/ccstfellows and on Twitter @CCSTFellows. Explore the CCST Science & Technology Policy Fellowship here.