Krista West is a first-year San Diego State University/University of California, Santa Barbara Joint Doctoral Program (SDSU/UCSB JDP) student. She earned her B.A. in Geography (and minor in Geological Sciences) from UCSB, and her M.S. in Remote Sensing Intelligence from the Naval Postgraduate School. After about a decade working in the remote sensing community for the Department of Defense and in industry positions, she was inspired by her work with Intterra, a Colorado-based startup that offers a cloud-based, geographical data visual interface for firefighters, to return to academia and study remote sensing and wildland fire. Her goal is to perform research that benefits first responders, decision makers, and communities that are at risk of wildland fires. She was a participant of CCST’s Science Translators Showcase on February 5, 2020, part of CCST Science & Technology Week.
As a self-diagnosed introvert, I was a bit intimidated to participate in an event that included three hours of “open networking,” particularly with decision makers in the Legislature and the Executive Branch. However, my experience at CCST’s Science Translators Showcase validated to me the importance of my research, broadened my communications skills, and—a personal highlight—allowed me to meet Assemblymembers Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) and Jose Medina (D-Riverside), who were both very kind and supportive. It’s an experience I would recommend to other graduate students and postdocs interested in science policy and communication.
I first learned about the showcase through my Ph.D. advisor, Dr. Douglas Stow at San Diego State University, who emailed me about “a potential opportunity to share your wisdom and get some experience connecting with decision makers and legislators in California.” As a California native, I’ve watched news coverage about wildland fires since I was little. Part of my drive to use remote sensing technologies to study landscapes that are at risk of fires comes from a goal to help the firefighters that risk everything to keep communities safe. In studying wildland fires, I became interested in the related policy decisions and their effects. It became clear to me that a combination of research and translation of that research for decision makers can support life-saving changes. When it comes to my remote sensing work, I’ve spent a fair amount of time trying to craft my communication skills—both within and outside of the science and technology communities. The CCST Showcase felt like a natural opportunity for me to further develop my skills while informing the Capitol community about my remote sensing research.
It’s an experience I would recommend to other graduate students and postdocs interested in science policy and communication.
In order to apply to the showcase, I had to record and submit a 60-second video clip of me briefly describing my research—my “elevator pitch” on remote sensing and wildland fires. It was more challenging than I thought it would be to make a succinct speech. Try describing your research in one sentence. It’s difficult, right? I’ve pored over the literature and have had many meetings with my advisor. I know what I’m researching and I know why it’s important; but how do I communicate that to others? How can I explain my research clearly and concisely so that a legislative staffer, Assemblymember, State Senator, or Governor Newsom can understand? I gave it my best effort and submitted my video.
Excitingly, I was accepted to the program! My fellow Science Translators and I received additional training through four in-depth webinars and got to know each other leading up to the CCST Showcase. We also had one in-person session the morning of the event. Led by Jeffery Song, who manages the CCST Science & Technology Policy Fellows Program and is a former fellow himself, these sessions provided an important introduction to policy and decision making in California.
Part of my drive to use remote sensing technologies to study landscapes that are at risk of fires comes from a goal to help the firefighters that risk everything to keep communities safe.
The 16 CCST Science Translators came from all over the state, including the University of California, California State University, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, NASA Ames Research Center, and Caltech campuses. Everyone had fascinating research projects and varying levels of policy experience. Although I grew up a little over an hour’s drive from the Capitol, most of my policy knowledge was a result of the political science segment in my high school history class (limited!). However, with the guidance of Jeffery, I felt prepared and ready to share my research with the Capitol community.
As the Showcase was set to begin, the other Science Translators and I walked from the CCST offices to the California State Capitol. Despite the February chill that can be felt in the Central Valley, the stroll was invigorating. We saw the iconic dome and columns as we approached, stepped on marble floors, and glanced at the displays set up for each California county as we made our way to the golden statue of the Grizzly Bear, just outside of the Governor’s Office Council Room. First, we met the co-host of CCST’s event, Assemblymember Jose Medina (D-Riverside), who Chairs the Assembly Committee on Higher Education. He shared some supportive opening remarks with us to kick off the showcase.
Soon after we started our networking conversations, I quickly appreciated that (1) my research is important, and (2) the showcase attendees are just as excited to learn from us as we are from them, seeking to become better informed on issues that may impact their constituencies. It was also great to meet many of the current CCST Science Fellows who are using the knowledge they gained while completing their Ph.D. programs to now advise decision makers in ways that benefit our state.
Although my time in Sacramento was short, the Showcase experience has helped me to more confidently communicate why the work I’m doing is so critical for California. I was initially worried that would not be the case because I am only just beginning my research program. However, I saw that I can adjust how I talk about my research to align with the conversations and discussions that occurred throughout the day. My worries were assuaged by the well-organized, highly competent, and incredibly friendly CCST team. In our group of 16 Science Translators, we covered a wide range of research foci; it’s inspiring to be a member of a group like this and I highly recommend participation in this program to others.
About the California Council on Science and Technology
The California Council on Science and Technology is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization established via the California State Legislature — making California’s policies stronger with science since 1988. We engage leading experts in science and technology to advise State decision makers — ensuring that California policy is strengthened and informed by scientific knowledge, research, and innovation.