Katherine Weber, Ph.D.
2012-2014 ACS Science Policy Fellow
Katherine Weber earned her Ph.D. in Genetics from the University of Cambridge in Spring 2012. Her doctoral research focused on the genetic basis of behaviour in the nematode C. elegans, a model organism for studying animal development. Katherine is the recipient of numerous awards, among them the Marshall Scholarship and the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. She is excited to work on policy related to science education and its importance for U.S. international competitiveness in science and technology.
First Year Fellowship Report
As the first year of my ACS science policy fellowship draws to a close, I am struck both by how quickly the time has passed, and by how much I have gained from the experience. I am thankful to the ACS for giving me the opportunity to work here, and for extending that opportunity for the upcoming year. I am grateful, too, to my colleagues in the Office of Public Affairs (OPA) for their support and mentorship, for allowing me to do interesting and challenging work, and for giving me the freedom to develop my interests.
ACS covers a wide range of policy issues, and we partner and interact with many governmental and non-governmental organizations, including federal agencies, Congress, other scientific societies, universities, and our own members in academia and industry. I have found the uniquely broad vantage point with which my position in OPA has provided me to be extremely valuable. It is exciting and rewarding to work on a variety of topics, and in doing so to come to better understand both the policy landscape in that area, and the people and external forces that influence it. I’ve also found that my job opens doors: when others hear that I am a fellow, they are surprisingly willing to answer my questions about their job and the organization they represent, and to offer advice. Developing a network of colleagues, friends, and connections through my position has been both fun and useful.
When I wrote a fellowship report this past March, I had just passed the stage of information overload. I had begun to feel comfortable with the range of policy issues covered by ACS and the mechanisms we use to cover them, with the composition and interests of our members, with the federal agencies that we follow, with the workings of Congress (and in particular of the budget), and with the ways in which I could make effective contributions to OPA. I want to be clear that I still have a lot to learn – but I now feel I’m in a position to learn it more efficiently. In that sense, the second half of this year has been even more valuable than the first, and I look forward to continuing to use and expand my skills and knowledge in my second year.
My fellowship so far has focused on federal relations and analysis of the federal budget, green chemistry and innovation, general ACS policy development and prioritization, and assisting with responses to other issues as they arise.
Through my federal relations work, I have gained a much deeper appreciation for the breadth of research funded by U.S. federal agencies, for the structures and cultures of individual agencies, and for the federal offices and programs that fund chemistry. I have attended numerous federal advisory council meetings, which provide OPA with information to inform our advocacy and policy work, and which are an opportunity to strengthen the connection between federal agencies and ACS. During the ACS legislative summit, I organized visits for members of CCPA and the ACS Board with senior agency officials, and accompanied a group of members on those visits. My knowledge of the Department of Energy meant that I understood the practical implications when the DOE’s new Secretary, Ernest Moniz, announced that he was reorganizing the department. At a meeting of the Federal Interagency Chemistry Roundtable (FICR), I heard about the work of multiple agencies on an important topic for ACS and for my independent project, green chemistry, and I left with a better understanding of one mechanism by which multiple federal agencies attempt to coordinate their efforts.
When it comes to following federal agencies and gathering information for ACS advocacy and policy, as in so many things, the most important information usually relates to money. I wrote in March that I had begun my fellowship at an interesting juncture for the federal government, especially in the area of the federal budget, and “interesting” remains a good word to describe events in Washington. I have, however, enjoyed the challenge of analyzing the budget and the funds provided for agencies, offices and programs that fund chemistry research. This analysis has covered the impact of across-the-board “sequestration” budget cuts, the President’s FY 2014 budget request, and FY 2014 Congressional appropriations bills. I co-authored with colleagues a chapter on chemistry R&D funding in the President’s FY 2014 budget request for the AAAS R&D funding book. In addition, I calculated the projected long-range implications for R&D funding of the Budget Control Act, which mandated this year’s sequestration.
Understanding the details of the federal budget has served as a solid basis for following and analyzing other policy issues as they arise, and helping to craft ACS policy messages. I have assisted with writing ACS talking points, with prioritizing ACS policy statements based on member and staff input, and I’ve helped to draft ACS letters to Congress on issues including government travel restrictions and peer review. I have also enjoyed working with ACS members to provide context as they drafted new policy statements on forensic science and peer review. These experiences have taught me to carefully consider what the ACS position should be, and how we can most effectively time and construct our communications as we advocate for chemistry and chemists.
Scientists and scientific societies play an important advocacy role, but I have learned that our role as unbiased sources of information is equally critical, and that it is vital that we separate these two functions. To that end, OPA runs the ACS Science and the Congress briefing program, and I am currently leading the organization for a briefing on the topic of synthetic biology.
As a fellow, I have enjoyed the opportunity to follow my own interests. I have worked independently to explore the effects on green chemistry innovation, and on innovation in general, of shifting international regulations in the chemical industry. As part of this project, I have coordinated my work with that of a AAAS Science Policy Fellow at the Environmental Protection Agency, and we have interviewed companies small and large that about R&D and regulatory management. I recently attended the Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference, and I have also spoken to experts in academia, government, and the non-profit sector. To complement this information gathering, I have explored case studies where international regulations impacted the U.S. markets. I plan to continue this work and present my findings by the end of this coming year.
In the past year, I have developed invaluable skills and instincts, and an understanding of science’s role in informing policymaking, as well as its dependence on the policies that govern research and development. I’ve also narrowed my own interests and come to understand how what I am doing now is preparing me for a career in science policy. I am energized knowing that I have the skills to make a difference. I will continue to enthusiastically recommend the ACS Public Policy Fellowships to other chemists. It has been a wonderful experience, and I am immensely grateful to ACS for making it possible.