Plugging In: Finding My Space in California Energy and Utilities Policy

December 12, 2022 | ,  

A photo of Natalie Seitzman, PhD, a 2022 CCST Science & Technology Policy Fellow with the title of her blog post and CCST logo on a blue background
Natalie Seitzman, PhD, is a 2022 CCST Science & Technology Policy Fellow placed in the California State Assembly Committee on Utilities and Energy. Raised in Peoria, Illinois, Natalie earned her PhD in Materials Science from the Colorado School of Mines, where she used X-ray 3D imaging to capture and understand the inner workings of batteries. She holds a BS in Chemistry from Trinity University.

Tick tock, tick tock. It’s been a year since I moved to Sacramento from Colorado, eager to transform my career, bask in the mild winter of California, and somehow contribute to state policy. I was uncertain and nervous. Whereas many of the other CCST S&T Policy Fellows are from California or California institutions, I couldn’t shake the thought that in my first year of living here, I would be more plugged into the internal workings of California lawmaking than most residents. Imposter syndrome loomed large and I questioned whether a five-year doctoral degree investigating the intricacies of battery technology using three-dimensional X-ray imaging was enough to earn a fastpass to “the room where it happens.”

 

Two photos of Natalie side-by-side, one in a science lab and the other outdoors with a climbing helmet on.
Left: posing with my experimental set up at the Advanced Photon Source, a synchrotron facility at Argonne National Laboratory (Photo: Rory Andrykowski). Right: celebrating my last few days in Colorado by climbing my first multi-pitch with my roommate. (Not pictured, my roommate. Sorry Theresa.) | Natalie Seitzman

Tick tock, tick tock. “We want you here and we chose you to be here,” the CCST staff told us multiple times in the first few days of our monthlong training program. There are a couple CCST-isms that new fellows hear a lot of in training but, in this moment ahead of my placement, I found this to be the most helpful mantra. The training gave me and my fellow Fellows a solid California government and policy primer. But it also felt a bit like a waiting game. Every Fellowship placement office is unique and there’s no way to fully prepare without knowing where you’ll be spending the year. After many weeks that went by both too quickly and too slowly, I landed in the Assembly Utilities and Energy Committee. Before I began my Fellowship, I would never have guessed I would want this placement, but in the moment, it was everything I wanted and truly everything I needed. In retrospect, it’s been career-defining. And it wasn’t until I had spent a few months in the committee that my fears of insufficiency were truly assuaged.

I’ve come to see there is value in an outsider’s perspective, in my perspective.

After all, there’s a reason I was drawn to this program and why I wanted to start a career in public policy—to use my research background and skills to make a difference in peoples’ lives. And all of the transferable skills I learned in grad school—i.e. independence, collaboration, speaking, writing, curiosity—show up in my daily work calling stakeholders, doing a deep dive into complex bills and summarizing them as brief(ish) analyses, or providing verbal summaries to the Chair of the committee.

 

I’ve come to see there is value in an outsider’s perspective, in my perspective.

 

The program’s strong mentorship has helped me develop into a capable, confident, policy wonk. My own mentor on the committee, Laura Shybut, PhD, was also a CCST S&T Policy Fellow (2017), placed with the same committee—and she moved here from out of state too. Now? She is the Chief Consultant of the committee and a California utilities and energy expert. (As an aside, my mentor is just one immediate example of the extensive CCST alumni network, full of helpful mentors who are always willing to make time and make connections.)

 

Natalie and her mentor standing in the bucket of a bucket truck just above the ground in a parking lot with hard hats.
My CCST mentor and I getting a test ride in a bucket truck used to repair electrical transmission lines. | Natalie Seitzman

 

Tick tock, tick tock. It’s already October and the clock is running down. I’ve had an amazing year with unforgettable experiences. The opportunities and responsibilities I have had as a Fellow are humbling. Being from out of state doesn’t limit or diminish the value of my contributions to my placement office or to state policy, but I do think it’s important to keep in mind as I work that I do not have the same background or life experiences of most of the people my work serves. Even performing my work has given me opportunities that would never be available to the people my work serves!

And while I think it’s clearly impactful to train and place scientists in government positions— the training that I received and skills I developed in my research have been critically helpful in my role—I think it’s also important to recognize the elitism that is tied up in doctoral degrees. I got a Ph.D. in part because I knew it would open the door to many possible careers.

 

We want you here and we chose you to be here.

 

Looking back this December, I am so grateful for the career that my Ph.D. and CCST have opened up for me. I look forward to continuing to work in energy policy in California as an Energy Policy Advocate at the Southern California Public Power Authority, working on behalf of Californians. I am eager to continue to evolve my new career, bask in the mild winters, and to make a difference in my new home.

 

Natalie walking near a body of water in Yosemite.
Just a casual stroll through Yosemite National Park on a tour learning about water resources and hydroelectric power. Yes, this was a work trip. I know. | Natalie Seitzman

 


About the CCST Science & Technology Policy Fellowship
The CCST Science & Technology Policy Fellows program places PhD-level scientists, engineers, and social scientists in the California State Legislature, State Agencies, and Offices of the Governor for a year of public policy, leadership training, and public service—training scientific thinkers to be policy-savvy, while helping equip California’s decision makers with science-savvy staff. Discover how our CCST S&T Policy Fellows make a difference in California’s policy arena and learn how to apply at CCST.us/CCST-Science-Fellows-Program.

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