1999-2001 Diplomacy Fellow at the U.S. Department of State
Diplomatic was never the first word used to describe me, so when I accepted a AAAS Diplomacy Fellowship my friends were amused that I would soon travel the world using a U.S. diplomatic passport. Despite their suspicion that I was lured more by international travel than anything else, my interest stemmed from an honest desire to expand my experience and education in coastal and marine science. I had already enjoyed a career exploring scientific and policy issues concerning local, state and national coastal problems, and so I was excited to have the opportunity to study those problems at the international level.
My fellowship took me to the Office of Ocean Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, where international marine policy takes center stage. I started in the midst of a swirling controversy regarding the role of science and technology within the State Department. We new AAAS Fellows found ourselves in the spotlight and uniquely positioned to cooperate with State’s newly-appointed science and technology advisor to strongly advocate in favor of a role for science in diplomacy.
My portfolio at State fit well with my interests in ocean pollution, marine biodiversity, and marine policy, and included work on invasive species, full and open exchange of marine data, discharge of ships’ ballast water and land-based sources of pollution to the marine environment. My duties — nearly overwhelming, but never boring — covered the mundane (preparing briefing materials and talking points) to the exceptional (representing State at international negotiations and developing and promoting U.S. international policy on marine issues). As the AAAS Fellow in the Oceans’ Office I was often expected to interpret and summarize the state of the science as presented by numerous interests, and, more than once, to provide insight into scientific uncertainty.
One fellowship highlight was representing State during negotiations at the International Maritime Organization and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission. These organizations form the nexus of international marine science and technology policy. While the responsibility was tremendously satisfying, my greatest intellectual reward was working closely with outstanding legal teams to combine science and law into policy to insure U.S. leadership at international negotiations. This collaboration involved developing a U.S. policy position — not a process for the weak of heart — through long hours of diplomacy in Washington to achieve consensus among myriad domestic interests.
The rewards of a fellowship go beyond the microcosm of your own office and agency. One’s fellow Fellows are an engaging group from a broad range of disciplines and the ties grow strong among them as the group participates in a fabulous orientation program ‘a la AAAS. In a town where contacts are everything, current and former Fellows create a valuable network which increases their worth in the offices in which they serve.
The fellowship offers a rare and wonderful opportunity for those curious about science beyond the laboratory. Through my Diplomacy Fellowship at the State Department, I had an opportunity to see how science plays in the world of politics and policy. Without doubt my fellowship provided me with the highly gratifying and edifying experience of formulating and negotiating U.S. international policy. And now that it’s over, my friends might still not call me diplomatic, but at least I can claim to have been a diplomat.