Abby Schneider, Ph.D.

2005-2006 ACS Congressional Fellow


Abby Schneider received her Ph.D. in Marine Estuary and Environmental Science from the University of Maryland, College Park in May 2005. Her thesis under Dr. Joel Baker, studied Polychlorinated Biphenyl (PCB) Desorption rates from re-suspended Hudson River sediment. She is a past intern of the Ocean Studies Board of the National Research Council where she worked on a study of the effects of trawling and dredging on seafloor habitat. Abby has placed in the Office of Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) where she worked primarily on coastal and ocean issues. Abby went on to become the Federal Legislative Representative at the Association of California Water Agencies.

Comments from the mid-point of Abby’s Fellowship, March 2006

I generally cover water issues for Senator Feinstein. This includes water contamination, recycling, desalination, wastewater treatment, climate change, fisheries, monitoring on-going water disputes, ecosystem restoration, and endangered species issues.

Some of my many activities include:

  • Preparing bill introduction speeches and briefing material for the Senator.
  • Recommending the Senator cosponsor legislation.
  • Meeting with constituents and addressing their concerns.
  • Writing letters to administration officials
  • Drafting legislation and or suggesting changes to legislation drafted by others.
  • Reviewing scientific literature to address specific issues including quantifying potential reduction in greenhouse gas concentrations from farm and forest initiatives.

Highlights or Success

  • Introduction of the California Perchlorate Remediation Act (even if it won’t go anywhere).
  • Negotiations to include California Water Agency request in a Republican Sponsored bill to fund water treatment research.
  • Staffing the Senator at a successful hearing on water recycling and working to improve the current law.


I feel privileged to learn from John Watts, the Environmental Council in the office. I interact with him on a daily basis. While he is not the best at providing guidance on the daily ins and outs of office protocol, he is an excellent mentor. He knows all about California environmental issues and is never the less willing to relinquish control and let me take the lead on issues. The problem sometime is too little guidance rather than not enough. For example, he was so busy before my first hearing he didn’t tell me exactly how the Senator likes to be staffed at these events until after the hearing ended. He apologized and in the end it wasn’t so bad but a five minute conversation before the hearing could have prevented a few problems.

The main challenges I have encountered is figuring out the office protocol on process issues basically the little things like what stationary to draft a letter on, how many copies of the letter to file where, that kind of thing. A better office orientation or one point of contact for all my questions on these topics would help.

Discuss your thoughts on how the presence of a Fellow is benefiting your placement office.

I think the presence of fellows is keeping the office from having to hire someone else to help cover environmental issues. The environmental council in the office is clearly overworked. I also think the office benefits immensely from having a scientist around. I routinely field general science questions from a lot of the office staff.

What challenges have you encountered? What recommendations do you have to address these situations:

A group of us congressional fellows banded together in our first few weeks to figure out all the on-going action on the Senate and House floor. It would have been nice to have a former fellow, someone on the hill, or someone with hill experience to serve as a resource to help us “newbies” figure out what exactly was going on. The CRS orientation was great but it was not enough. It would have been nice to have someone meet with us after about our first month on the job to make sure we understood the process.

Abby shares her fellowship experience with the ACS Committee on
Chemistry and Public Affairs, which runs the fellowship program, at
their spring 2006 meeting.