Kusai Merchant, Ph.D.

ACS Congressional Fellow, 2006-2007


Kusai Merchant received his Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry from Stanford University in 2004. His graduate work centered on theoretical and experimental ultrafast multidimensional vibrational spectroscopy studies of proteins. Prior to his fellowship, Kusai performed postdoctoral research with Dr. William Eaton at the National Institutes of Health. In late 2005, Kusai interned at the Committee on Science of the U.S. House of Representatives where he worked on the impact of SBIR-supported research and of pharmaceuticals in wastewater. Kusai approached his fellowship with an interest in working on technology and energy policies.

Kusai has since become a Climate Policy Specialist for the Environmental Defense Fund.

Mid-Year Fellowship Report, April 2007

I have been working in Senator Reid’s office since December on energy and environmental issues. My work has focused mostly on renewables, efficiency, with an eye towards climate change policy. I accepted a placement offer in October for a January start date. However, with the change of control after the elections, I was eager to start earlier and they were glad to have the help.

Compared to the experiences of some of my fellow Fellows, working in a leadership office has given me a slightly different legislative experience. My policy perspective is generally more national in orientation, and the political calculus is more explicit when considering policy initiatives, looking for co-sponsors, or crafting our message (I do not consider these things to be negative). Also, we are often able to operate behind the scenes when advancing our policy initiatives, usually by having them folded into other measures that we decide to move. I expect to see more than a few of our proposals come to the floor, although mostly in the form of chairmen’s marks or managers’ amendments. The disadvantage of working in this way is that it is more difficult to claim credit for the measure to your constituents.

I work directly under Chris Miller, who is the Senior Policy Advisor on Energy and Environment for the Senate Democratic Caucus. Chris is always available when I need help or guidance, but I need to ask to get it. I have received informal feedback as I’ve needed it, but it has been a little bit difficult getting a formal review process to occur. This will probably change after I have spent more time in the office.

Having a technical background has been a great help in quickly getting up to speed on all the science and technology issues involved with renewables and climate change. I have not yet used my scientific “knowledge,” nor do I expect to during my fellowship. The office benefits most from the scientific skills I have developed during my training. I do occasionally serve as a science information filter, and as a fact-checker for information others might present to our office. I also ask questions that would likely have gone unasked.

The biggest challenge has been figuring out exactly what is expected from me. In my scientific work it was more obvious to me how I should be spending my time, and what constituted good work product. There is far less clarity regarding expectations. Also, there is a wide variation in the workload from week to week. Figuring out how to better spread out my workload is something I’ve been working on.