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Robin Schafer

2008-2009 Fellow at the Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, Center for Program Analysis

For other AAAS Fellows, it is the culmination of their experiences that helps them chart a new career. Robin Schafer learned about the fellowship just one month before the deadline, but knew she was ready for a change. “I wanted to try something different from academia,” says Robin, who received her PhD in linguistics in 1995, and worked for six years as a cognitive neuroscience research scientist at Yale University. “I found myself in a position where a lot of women find themselves in the middle of their careers.

As women we often take diverse pathways and end up having unconventional careers,” she says. “The AAAS Fellowship is a great place for valuing that path.” Robin’s placement at the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suited her interests perfectly. “I had always done volunteer environmental work and had been involved with a number of grassroots efforts,” she says. At the EPA, Robin has focused on health-related issues.

She organized a workgroup to develop health indicators that will incorporate social determinants of health at waste cleanup sites. “We are not just dealing with land, but also with communities,” she says. “The goal is to remediate for use, and that can affect children’s lives and health.” Robin is also drafting a report about where best to site schools to reduce the risks of contaminants to children. As someone who has always worked on local environmental issues, Robin was unsure about what could be done at the federal level. “There is the opportunity to accomplish more than I thought,” she says. “And the interesting thing about the fellowship at EPA is that you have a lot of freedom to pursue projects on your own.”