Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Year of Your Life--ASA, CSSA, and SSSA's Congressional Science Fellowship

The American Society of Agronomy (ASA), Crop Science Society of America (CSSA), Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) Congressional Science Fellowship (CSF) administered by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) was undoubtedly the most educational and rewarding year that I have experienced in my career thus far. Before applying for the CSF, I wanted to learn the process of how science influenced policy and vice versa—I have always believed that science is incredibly important in addressing world challenges, and I wanted to use my scientific skills and awareness while working in Congress. I was honored to serve as the ASA, CSSA, and SSSA CSF from 2009-2010 and selectively placed in Senator Richard Durbin’s (IL) office.

As a fellow, my role was to distill complex scientific information into usable policy recommendations. I was called upon for help with all scientific issues, but my daily responsibilities were for energy and environmental legislation. In an affectionate way, the staff and the Senator often called me “The Scientist.” I was the only person in an office of approximately 50 employees that had an advanced scientific degree. The majority of Senators and Hill staffers have law and or policy backgrounds. Thus, with my scientific background, I was able to provide these very intelligent people with a new perspective. They benefited from my investigative thinking, and I benefited by engaging in the most dynamic, real-world civics class imaginable. My daily tasks were diverse and included:

  • briefing the Senator,
  • drafting new legislation,
  • building consensus behind the scenes on Senate votes,
  • providing guidance for millions of dollars of appropriations money,
  • inter-mediating between stakeholder interest groups and the federal agencies,
  • writing talking points for the Senator to be used at public events and on the Senate floor,
  • staffing the Senator at hearings,
  • tracking the news and learning the stories before they hit the press,
  • and helping constituent concerns.

The most memorable days at work were when I would teach the Senator about a scientific issue and then I would hear him describing this science to his fellow Senators. In summary, I highly recommend the ASA, CSSA, and SSSA CSF to all scientists, no matter the stage in your career. There is no better place to put to use the scientific process than in our country’s democratic system.

--Dr. Julie DeMeester

  • From left to right, Senator Roland Burris (D-IL), Dr. DeMeester, and Senator Durbin (D-IL) are pictured above.
  • The deadline for applying to the ASA, CSSA, and SSSA CSF is March 29, 2011. Please see more information here.

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