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Expanding Fellowship Learning in New Zealand

By Melody Brown Burkins, 1999-2000 Congressional Fellow sponsored by GSA-USGS

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A live tweet from the meeting on September 1, 2014.

This September, I had the honor of traveling to New Zealand as a U.S. Delegate to the 31st General Assembly of the International Council of Science (ICSU) and as an invitee to the first-ever “Science Advice to Governments” (SAG) conference convened by ICSU. As a member of a diplomatic delegation working to advance U.S.-international scientific interests, I was inspired by the global community of colleagues who devote their lives to developing international science in service of society, equality, health, sustainability, and peace.

Over two days of candid discussions and presentations, science advisors from around the world discussed common challenges in framing data for public audiences, ensuring scientific ideas are included in high-level policy debates, and retaining their scientific credibility when advising government leaders on politically sensitive issues. To share the experience with those who could not join in person, I enjoyed “live tweeting” from the conference (see hashtag #SciAdvice14 on Twitter).

Later, among more than 200 representatives from 120 national societies and 31 international scientific unions, I continued tweeting from the 31st ICSU General Assembly (see #ICSUGA on Twitter). Our delegation voted on issues including urging ICSU to more actively engage early career scientists in positions of international science leadership. In the closing keynote, Dr. Bruce Alberts, U.S. Science Envoy and former editor-in-chief of Science, spoke of the importance of scientists becoming better communicators.

As I flew home with a long list of follow up items and ideas, I knew well that the opportunity to be a part of these important discussions had everything to do with my transformative S&T Policy Fellowship. As it did (and does) for so many, the fellowship changed my career path from one of purely academic research and teaching to that of an avowed “bridge professional” working to find ways to connect the world’s best scholarship more directly to public policy and social impact.

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U.S. Delegation to 31st General Assembly of the ICSU: Bruce Alberts, Michael Clegg, C. Bradley Moore, and Melody Brown Burkins. | Kathie Bailey

My fellowship led me to remain in the U.S. Senate for three years, then on to the University of Vermont to develop collaborations between academic interests, state and federal partners, and private industry. As a geologist with policy experience, I was appointed by the National Academies of Science to the U.S. National Committee for the International Union of Geological Sciences (USNC-IUGS). This led to my next career step at Dartmouth College’s John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding, where in January I will connect multidisciplinary expertise – from faculty, staff, and students – to global challenges in a number of areas including health, environment, and security. I will also teach science policy and diplomacy and develop a book on “bridge professional” career paths and leadership in this emerging space. 

I was honored to represent U.S. interests as well core ideas of the AAAS S&T Policy Fellowship: that engaging the best of science in the world of public policy is worthwhile, transformative, and critical to our future. I will continue to advance these ideas and help develop the next generation of science, policy, and diplomacy leaders who will inherit and shape our global future.

Melody Brown Burkins is Associate Director for Programs and Research in the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth College. Burkins serves on the Governing Council of the Science Policy Exchange and the Board of Directors for Vermont’s Energy Action Network.