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Jessica Tucker

Jessica Tucker
Science & Technology Policy Fellowships

2008-09 Health, Education & Human Services (HEHS) Fellow; Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, Office of Medicine, Science and Public Health

Jessica Tucker knew early on she wanted to do policy work. “I was drawn to areas of medicine that had more to do with science policy than scientific research,” says Jessica, who received a PhD in chemical engineering from Carnegie Mellon University. “I was interested in topics like delivering medication to the underserved more than developing drugs.” The AAAS Fellowships seemed like the perfect opportunity. “But I didn’t get it the first time I applied,” she noted. Undaunted, Jessica applied again the next year and secured a placement in the Office of Medicine, Science and Public Health at the Department of Health and Human Services.

She took on an exciting project involving the health and security risks of synthetic biology, focusing on DNA that could be used to create diseases like anthrax, polio, or smallpox. “For this project, science plays a big role. For example, what part of the DNA sequence do we need to monitor?” You have to know cutting-edge science in this area to answer this policy question.” Jessica works with other agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of State, and the National Institutes of Health, to help determine guidelines for synthetic DNA. Working with such a diverse group, it is critical that she understand different perspectives and interests. “NIH, for example, is concerned with legitimate burdens for researchers who need access to synthetic DNA,” explains Jessica. “This is different from the concerns the FBI may have.”

Before the fellowship, her interests leaned more toward public health than security. However, she took this assignment for the experience. “It was a lower profile assignment than some of the other things I could have worked on, but I was able to take more of a lead than I would have on other projects,” Jessica shared. “It’s not an issue I would have engaged in before the fellowship.”