2006-08 Energy, Environment, Agriculture & Natural Resources (EEANR) Fellow at the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science; and
2008-09 Diplomacy Fellow at the U.S. Department of State
Although AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellows are relatively new to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the fellowships already have met with great success. The DOE’s first AAAS Fellow, Julie Carruthers, renewed her 2005-06 fellowship for a second year and is now on the DOE staff as a senior advisor to the Director of the Office of Science; and 2006-07 AAAS Fellows Kohl Gill and Uday Varadarajan renewed their placements through 2008.
Kohl received his PhD in physics in 2005 from the University of California at Santa Barbara. He applied for a AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowship after spending a year in his parents’ homeland of India volunteering in governance and anticorruption work through a nonprofit organization called Indicorps. “I was born and raised in Sherman, Mississippi, so I speak Punjabi very badly and with a southern twang. I baffled people,” Kohl says. Yet he’s done nothing but impress his colleagues at the DOE’s Office of Science, where he serves as a contact between the Office of Science and the DOE applied energy programs.
“Kohl works at a corporate level to help with the overall management of our six Office of Science programs,” says Bill Valdez, director of planning and analysis at the Office of Science, and Kohl’s supervisor.
“Even though Kohl didn’t start at the Office of Science with a strong background in energy resources, physics is a core component of applied energy programs. The technical skills he acquired while obtaining his PhD helped him understand the research and get up to speed quickly. He’s made significant contributions during his fellowship.” Kohl’s first-year fellowship contributions included writing reports for the Senate and the Office of Management and Budget about DOE research and development integration, and writing a report for Congress on higher education institutions collaborating with the DOE. “It’s invigorating to think broadly about the energy analysis needs of the nation and how the DOE can best support very complex decision making in all aspects of energy,” says Kohl.“Policymakers’ lack of science literacy greatly impedes their abilities to make informed decisions. It’s critical that more scientists become involved at all levels of the political process from local to state to national.”
Kohl serves on the DOE’s Science of Science Policy Interagency Working Group because he’s concerned about the future of science policy. “In the field of economics, decisions about funding, infrastructure, and research and development are based partly on expert opinion and partly on analytical computer programs. Currently with science policy, we just use opinion. We need to bring more sophisticated tools to bear on the problems at hand.” Doing so, says Kohl, will take some of the mystery out of science. “Policymakers’ lack of science literacy greatly impedes their abilities to make informed decisions. It’s critical that more scientists become involved at all levels of the political process from local to state to national.”
Based on the DOE’s successful experience with AAAS Fellowships to date, Bill says it’s likely that other science programs within the Office of Science will host AAAS Fellows in the future. “It’s a great opportunity for the Office of Science to look at extremely talented people who have good technical skills who might be interested in working longer term in program management or policy development within the federal government,” he explains. “It’s a win-win situation. AAAS Fellows get to see firsthand what we do within the Office of Science and decide if this is the area where they want to apply their scientific expertise.”