As 2012 gets underway, lawmakers in Sacramento are returning to confront the difficult fiscal challenges of the State. In addition they will continue to navigate California’s ever-evolving science and technology related policy issues. Thanks to a small group of dedicated experts, they have a little extra help.
The California Science and Technology Policy Fellowship program is in its third year, and has placed ten professional scientists in yearlong appointments in the California state legislature. The program is designed to enable fellows to work hands-on with policymakers in addressing complex scientific and technical issues. Modeled on a longstanding program run by AAAS in Congress and modified for the unique nature of the California Legislature, the California S&T Policy Fellowship is the only state-level program of its kind today.
The intersection of science, technology and policy is a logistically challenging one; navigating many issues, such as environmental impacts, greenhouse gas emissions, or water management, can involve considerable amounts of research and data. It is the Fellows’ task to use their analytical and research expertise to help bridge the gap between the worlds of science and policy making.
“The Fellows bring a different perspective,” said Marie Liu, a consultant for the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee, which has hosted a Fellow in each of the three years of the program. “In crafting policy, you want as many perspectives as possible. The Fellows, having PhDs, are taught to think critically… They ask good questions, and add a lot of value to the process.”
The S&T Policy Fellows begin their term each Fall with a rigorous month long ‘boot camp’ training regimen, during which they are introduced to the realities of working in the Legislature and the specialized skills needed to be successful in their assigned Fellowship roles. They are placed in their legislative offices in early December to work under the guidance of mentors from the legislative staff.
The Fellows’ commitment to bringing their expertise to the policy sector doesn’t end with the completion of the year-long fellowships, however. Following their time in the Legislature, many Fellows have continued employment in the public sector, with several obtaining jobs in the Legislative staff and executive agencies of California; one has been recruited to work as staff to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology in the White House. In the first years of the program, the S&T Policy Fellows have been well received by the Legislature and their experiences have helped to shape their ongoing career directions.
“The Senate’s standing committees and Chairs have uniformly expressed deep satisfaction with the many contributions of these highly-qualified Fellows to the policymaking work of the state Senate,” said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.
“I strongly believe that the S&T Fellows provide lasting contributions,” added Assembly Member Nancy Skinner, “both through the immediate policy impacts during their tenure and, in many cases, through their ongoing scientific and technical contributions to policy issues.”