2003-05 Diplomacy Fellow at the U.S. Department of State
By forgoing a traditional academic career, Winston Yu leveraged his PhD to open doors to issues and cultures he may not have encountered in the lab. The research he conducted for his environmental science and engineering degree took him from the halls of Harvard University to the riverbanks of Bangladesh, where he investigated the problem of arsenic in drinking water (his results appeared in the November 22, 2002 issue of Science). He then spent two years in the Boston office of a non-governmental organization (NGO), the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), working on water resource management issues in China.
For Winston, the AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowship seemed like a natural progression for his career because his research always had a strong policy component, and he wanted his science to make a difference to people’s lives. “I saw a unique opportunity to sit at the crossroads of science and policy and see firsthand how it all unfolds.”
Wanting to remain focused on international issues, Winston accepted an assignment in the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. He soon became involved in an initiative that varied greatly from his previous work, one that focused on using science education as a foreign policy tool to build bridges with Muslim communities (such as in Indonesia). This project exposed him to the complexities of inter-governmental collaboration and coordination, as he led efforts to build bridges between offices within the State Department and between a variety of agencies (e.g. National Science Foundation, Department of Education, the NGO community) to build broad policy support.
According to Winston, “The fellowship provided me with a greater appreciation of the political process and the complexity of policy decisions. As scientists we identify a problem and say, ‘Here are the possible solutions.’ In government, it’s not that easy. There are political, cultural and historical implications.”
He also remained involved in water issues by assisting the principal deputy assistant secretary on a project to restore Iraq’s Mesopotamian marshes, for the benefit of both the ecosytem and the nearly half-million Iraqis who once called the marshlands home. Since the 1970s, the marshes were ravaged by war and numerous diversions by Saddam Hussein to the point that nearly 95 percent have been destroyed. The recovery work— dubbed “Eden Again”— has been a joint effort by officials from the U.S., Canada and Italy.
To recognize his contributions to the State Department on these and other projects, Yu was one of four AAAS Fellows honored by the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs for their exceptional efforts in promoting U.S. environmental, scientific and health policies internationally. The other three Fellows include Anish Goel, Margaret McCauley and Ana Villegas, all 2003-05 AAAS Fellows at the State Department.
Soon after Winston’s fellowship ended, he began an open-ended position with The World Bank through its prestigious Young Professionals Program, which accepts only 40 young and passionate development professionals each year. He spent the first year of the program focusing on water and development issues for the South Asia Region, primarily working in India and Pakistan. This year, he is a water resource specialist for the African Nile Basin Initiative, preparing regional investments to maximize the economic opportunities available to the 10 countries that share the basin.
As for the near future, Winston plans on staying with The World Bank, which has allowed him to apply his skills as a scientist to improve water resources management around the globe while working in an exciting, yet challenging, environment. “In science, you’re in control of all the variables,” says Winston. “When you’re in the government world, that’s not always the case.”