Science historian Jim Fleming credits his Roger Revelle Fellowship in Global Stewardship with sending his career in a whole new direction. “I really transformed from an historian of science to historian of science, technology and public policy. It led to a lot of ways of making my history relevant,” Fleming said.
Fleming, who has a master’s degree in atmospheric science and a Ph.D. in the history of science, used his 2006-07 fellowship at the Wilson Center to write a book about the history of geoengineering – Fixing the Sky: The Checkered History of Weather and Climate Control. In fact, he says he developed the phrase that became the book’s title in preparing for the admissions interview for the fellowship.
“It expanded my research quite a bit. It led me to think about how the history interacts with current needs and interests,” including policy implications, said Fleming, who is currently the Charles A. Dana Professor of Science, Technology, and Society at Colby College. During his fellowship, he participated in a congressional committee hearing about geoengineering. It was a big departure from his academic studies, which focused primarily on 19th century science.
The endowed Revelle fellowship, which funds projects that address global stewardship problems by applying a fellow’s multidisciplinary background toward solutions to societal issues, differs in some ways from other Science & Technology Policy Fellowships (STPF). It requires applicants have some career experience, and that they apply with a project proposal that includes a host institution and mentor.
The Revelle fellowship is unusual in that it allows broad flexibility in choosing projects and host institutions. Previous fellows have been hosted by congressional offices, federal agencies, and science and scholarly nonprofits. In addition to allowing fellows to explore new areas of research, it also expands their professional networks, both through the contacts at their host institutions and with their peers in the STPF program, Fleming said.
Current Revelle fellow at the World Bank, virologist Kanya Long, also said she was specifically interested in the Revelle fellowship because it would allow her to move her career in a new direction. In her case, from human health to broader human-animal-ecosystem health challenges, and from academia to program management and policy work.
Long’s previous research included working with mosquito-borne viruses, which are highly responsive to changes in the environment. Her current project is to build surveillance and laboratory capacity in West Africa to help prevent outbreaks of infectious human diseases like Ebola. Besides the technical challenges, there are the political, logistical and funding challenges of getting “two very separate systems –one focused on human health, and the other on animal health” to work together, Long said.
Unlike some other STPF fellowships, the Revelle is not renewable, which requires fellows stay focused. “I have to make my impact quickly,” Long said.
The endowed Revelle Fellowship is available at least every four years. Learn more here.
(Photo of Jim Fleming by David Hawxhurst, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.)