Brittany Westlake, Ph.D.
ACS Science Policy Fellow, 2010-2011
Brittany Westlake earned her Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2010. Her doctoral work, under the direction of Dr. John Papanikolas and Dr. Tom Meyer, focused on light-driven electron-proton transfer. Brittany has worked with the North Carolina Local Section Government Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill and district visits with Representative Price (D-NC). In addition, she has done hands-on experiments for K – 8 students while working at Augusta Georgia’s Fort Discovery and serving as a Graduate Assistantship in Areas of National Need (GAANN) fellow. During her Science Policy Fellowship, Brittany worked with ACS staff within the Office of Public Affairs on energy and science policy.
Year-End Fellowship Report
Looking back at my ACS fellowship I am amazed at how much I have learned and done over the past two years. I started as a fellow straight out of graduate school, and this fellowship offered a great opportunity to jump right into the middle of the policy world and to lift back the curtain and watch how all the players interact. I came to ACS just before the dramatic November 2010 elections, and I’ve had the opportunity to watch the 112th Congress from its start with 94 new members who came ready to blaze new legislative trails almost all the way through to its end. It’s been an incredible learning experience to watch the conversation and tone of Congress evolve over the past two years as partisan politics, budget realities, and the upcoming elections have set in. It has also been interesting to see the way agencies deal with tight fiscal environments as the full effects of the recession began to affect research grants and the tough choices have to be made about their research priorities.
As a fellow I have focused on energy policy, environmental policy, federal affairs, and a variety of issues of importance to the chemical industry and research communities as they have arisen. Being a fellow allowed me the opportunity to attend congressional hearings on many of these topics. These hearings are a great way to learn about a topic and to watch the beginnings of the political discussion surrounding it. The fellowship also provided me the opportunity to attend federal advisory committee meetings where the agencies present their latest news and future research directions, and hear feedback from their advisors. Holding the fellow title also makes people surprisingly willing to meet you for coffee and tell you about their jobs and role in the policy arena.
As a fellow at ACS, I have gained a deep understanding of the needs of chemists and the chemical industry. It has given me an appreciation for the complex role that regulations, a strong education system, and government support for basic research play in creating a vibrant chemical industry. This experience has made me appreciate the interconnections between all the parts involved and the long term consequences of neglecting the solid foundation that they build together.
My main focus was on energy policy and I have gained a much better understanding of the nation’s energy needs. The sheer scale of our energy use can be daunting. We use energy in manufacturing, to transport goods, to get people to and from work, to keep the lights on and the water running. Working with the Sustainable Manufacturing Round Table, I had the opportunity to do some energy calculations based on their recommendations for savings across many areas of chemical manufacturing processes. It was interesting to see the effects on energy and revenue savings made by even modest efficiency gains and process improvements. I’ve also begun to appreciate the difficulties of shifting our reliance on energy from coal and oil to alternative, less carbon intensive sources. Even after improvements in the physical and chemical issues related to an alternative energy technology, you still have economic and sociological challenges to bringing it to market. Introducing new energy technologies in competition with established sources and infrastructure has proven a challenging endeavor and will require continued effort.
Working within the Office of Public Affairs (OPA) at ACS has taught me a lot. The same way I learned about research from my advisors in graduate school, working with policy, advocacy, and communication professionals has taught me a great deal. I have really appreciated the willingness of ACS staff to take time to explain different parts of the policy process to me.
As a graduate chemist I had a narrow glimpse into government support for research. This fellowship opportunity has helped me gain a greater understanding and appreciation for how governmental policies and initiatives shape the agencies research agendas, how federal and local regulations drive research funding directions, and how groups like ACS play an important role in advocating for chemistry and research in a way that individual scientists would not be able to on their own. I appreciate this opportunity and strongly encourage ACS to continue to support this valuable and educational fellowship program.