To catalyze new connections and collaboration among alumni of the AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships (STPF) program, STPF launched a series of online chats designed for alumni and hosted by STPF Director Rashada Alexander (2009-11 Executive Branch Fellow at the National Institutes of Health).
In a refreshing and open conversation, Tracee Walker Gilbert (2011-12 Executive Branch Fellow, Department of Health and Human Services; 2012-13 Executive Branch Fellow, Department of Defense) shared her journey from digital engineer, to STPF fellow, and finally to entrepreneur. She credited the program with giving her the opportunity to make connections and explore new career paths. For her, the most important thing to do as a fellow was to meet as many people as possible and connect in meaningful ways: a fellow’s role is to “participate in as many things as you can and...to show up being your best self," she said.
As a digital engineer, Gilbert brings physical processes to the digital age. Digital engineering is being applied at the Department of Defense and other agencies to incorporate model-based approaches. She notes that one challenge is to transform the culture of the workforce to adapt to new digital ecosystems.
The conversation then moved to the career topic of negotiating salary. In her managerial positions, she has made it a point for women to get equal pay. Her advice: talk actual dollars and understand the salary landscape.
While not every juncture in her career path worked out in a conventional sense, they each acted to shift her in the direction she needed to go. Before closing, Gilbert told alumni fellows to “find the fire inside themselves” and to “trust the process. You can’t envision where you’re going to be at the end of the fellowship or a few years down the road.”
The second Alumni Chat featured Kate Stoll (2011-13 Executive Branch Fellow at the National Science Foundation; 2013-14 Legislative Branch Fellow at the US House of Representatives). From her time as a fellow, Kate had the opportunity to understand the perspective of federal employees, gain appreciation for the philanthropic sector, and have exposure to the interests of different parties.
STPF alumni can relate with packed schedules and a seemingly endless list of commitments. To translate her affinity for science policy into action and prioritize these commitments, Kate considers a few factors: growth opportunities, intellectual and contribution opportunities, the ability to make an impact, and the ability to meet new people. She also spoke at length about the value of coming back to AAAS in various volunteer capacities and the value it brought to her career. Last, she advised alumni to look into engaging with and/or joining groups such as the Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy (COSEPP), National Science Policy Network, and Section X, to name a few.
What keeps Kate invested in science policy after the fellowship? “When it comes to problem solving, I don’t know of a better tool to get to solutions than science, research, and engineering,” she said, and a way to get those tools into decision-makers’ hands is through policy. Ultimately, science policy “is a place where we can make an impact.”