The Sciences

Don't let the white lab coat fool ya. The Capitol Hill-ready suit and tie are hidden under my research bench.

The IntersectionBy The IntersectionMay 4, 2011 7:03 PM


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This is a guest post by Jamie L. Vernon, Ph.D., an HIV research scientist and aspiring policy wonk, who recently moved to D.C. to get a taste of the actionGood morning, Intersection readers.

It is appropriate that today is "Star Wars Day" because I will need the "force" as I step in to do some writing while Chris is away. I may lack Sheril's beauty and womanly perspective, but I hope to provide stimulating and thought-provoking content for the regular readers over the next few days. You may know me from Twitter (or not) or you may have occasionally read my blog (or not). If so, then you know that I'm currently working as a postdoctoral research scientist at the National Cancer Institute (none of my views represent those of NCI or NIH). Fortunately for the non-scientists, my research is easily explained; I'm currently working in a well-established lab that is developing a vaccine to prevent HIV infections. If you'd like to know more about our antigen-presentation platform, feel free to comment on this post. So, how did I get into the science communication community? A few years ago, an AAAS representative came to the University of Texas at Austin where I was doing my doctoral research. She put out the call for scientists to become more involved in policy, particularly science policy. Honestly, I wasn't aware of opportunities for scientists to get involved in the policy-making process, so I began to do some research. I found that there is a dearth of scientific participation in policy and I felt the need to answer the call. I joined with a graduate student counterpart to establish a campus chapter of Scientists and Engineers for America at UT

Austin. We went on to do some exciting things with energy conservation on the UT campus. I registered to testify in the Texas State Board of Education science standards hearings (a story I would love to tell you) and I began to encourage my classmates and other scientists to get involved in science policy. In a more direct political way, I also volunteered for the Obama campaign. I was selected to be a precinct captain for the campaign and I eventually was elected by the voters in my district to be the Democratic Party Temporary Precinct Chairman, which empowered me to run our Democratic caucuses (Obama defeated Clinton by receiving 66% of the votes). Suffice it to say that I lean a little to the left, but you might be surprised to know where I agree with the right. Each of these experiences provided more insight into how our government works and how policy is made for us. They also reinforced my perception that government needs more of a scientific perspective, which can only be achieved by more participation by scientists. One way scientists can participate in policy is to help shape the public's view of us, preferably in a positive way. To do this, scientists must make themselves available to the community-at-large. To help meet this need, I created a science cafe called Science in the Pub that allows scientists to talk about their research in an environment that is more inviting for the public. This venture has been and continues to be, thanks to Joe Hanson, a huge success with crowds of 50 or more people, scientists and non-scientists, attending on a regular basis. For some, an easier way to form a relationship with the public is to start a blog. I'm planning to write more about the fascinating world of science blogging and its impact on science policy, so I'll save that for later. I started my blog to create a log of my thoughts on science policy issues. It turned out to be an effective tool for developing relationships in the science policy and science communication world that have positively influenced my career. Beyond blogging and science cafes, the opportunities to get involved are limitless and I encourage all scientists to make it their goal to get out there. Needless to say, we've got a lot of work to do. As for me, I chose to make the ultimate commitment and move to Washington, D.C. so that I could be as involved as much as my time would allow. I've been fortunate to be welcomed by the science policy community, which is quite vibrant here. If you're wondering if I plan to go all the way by becoming a policy wonk, the answer is yes. I'll be a AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow in the future. So, how did I get this gig at The Intersection? Well, it's a not-so-amazing story that involves a science cafe, a cross-country move and the ScienceOnline conference, but I won't bore you with the details (well just a few). Basically, while doing my PhD in Texas, I invited Sheril to do a talk for Science in the Pub. Sheril introduced me to Chris. After moving to DC, where you'll find The Intersection headquarters (have you seen the fancy diggs?!), Chris and I began talking science and policy over beers on a regular basis. We took a roadtrip to the ScienceOnline conference in my home state of North Carolina and the rest is history. Now, we get to the business at hand. Like a substitute teacher, I expect some spitballs and out of order talking, but if I'm lucky, I'll be able to share a few of my ideas and perhaps stimulate some constructive conversations. I know that you can teach me much more than I can offer you so I look forward to your participation. What I hope to accomplish over the next few days is to manage The Intersection the way I would manage my own blog if I were to fully dedicate myself to blogging on a regular basis. I'm a new participant in the science online community, but I've been following the action for years, so I know some of the players and the rules of the game. So, let us begin. Over the coming days, I'll be writing about things of interest to me. As I've said, I'll be discussing the role of science blogging in the policy-making process and I'll be asking questions like, "Is the science online community effective as a science outreach tool?" and "Why has the Obama administration been so dreadful at providing scientific integrity guidelines in a timely manner?" I look forward to your feedback. Stay tuned for future posts.

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