March Newsletter

Good evening everyone!

Besides nice spring weather, March also brings Science Policy Group three very exciting events at the end of March, plus new leadership opportunities. Keep reading on for more details!

Call for Leadership Nominations!
Fill out nomination form by April 3rd at midnight

The Science Policy Group is currently accepting nominations for all leadership positions. Working with the SPG gives scientists-in-training valuable and unique experience organizing events, leading groups, and meeting politicans. If you want to help bring our group into the next academic year, you can fill out the Google form here. Nominations are due by midnight, April 3rd.

Science Policy Group Information Session
March 26, 5:30p-7p, 217 Noyes Lab. Contact for more info

If you are interested in learning more about our group and want to get more involved with us, join us for an information session on March 26! During this session, we will meet the group’s executive board, learn a brief history of our fairly new group, and some of our future aspirations. We will also discuss the opportunities available for active group members. Pizza will be provided!

SPG Happy Hour at Legends!
March 27 at 6p at Legends Bar & Grill

After learning about our group at the info session, come join us in a more causal setting at Legends Bar & Grill on Green Street. We will have a sign up showing our location. Come hang out with the executive board and grab some dinner with us!

Save the Grid! Science Policy Game Night 2
March 29, 2-5p, 1265 DCL. RSVP here.

The Science Policy Group is bringing back its popular game night, featuring a revamped ruleset and a brand new opportunity to learn about how science and policy intersect. In this unique role playing game, a natural disaster has struck your city and has destroyed its power grid. You will work with your neighbors to design an energy and water policy while working with business and the environmental lobbies to restore power. Students/Faculty/Staff are all welcome. Pizza will be provided, but space is limited so please RSVP as soon as you can!

Dr. Mary E. Maxon gives Career Seminar- White House OSTP, Graduate Education and more…

“A Ph.D. is valuable in a huge range of rewarding career options, and moving from academia to new opportunities can result in even greater impact, if not more fun,” says Dr. Mary E. Maxon of the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory. Anyone that had the pleasure of interacting with Dr. Maxon throughout the day can definitely attest to the latter half of that statement. She had many fun stories to tell from her time in the White House and just as many insightful career tips for those looking toward Science Policy as a career option.

Maxon visited the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign by invitation from the University’s Chemical Biology Interface Training Program on February 14, 2019. During her visit Dr. Maxon gave a career seminar entitled, “Adventures in Science and Science Policy: From Industry to the White House and Beyond,” where she detailed her meandering path through four academic institutions, including her graduate program at UC-Berkley in Molecular Cell Biology and postdoctoral research at UCSF. Dr. Maxon went on to manage projects at two biotech start-ups before being the first scientist recruited to develop the California Stem Cell Institute- her first science policy job. From their she moved to the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and then was recruited to the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in the Executive Office of the President, under the Obama Administration.

Although it wasn’t an easy decision for Maxon to move across the country and work at the White House, she was ultimately won over by the words of President Barack Obama during his 2009 inauguration speech, “We will restore science to its rightful place.” She realized, she could be apart of that effort, or at the very least, have a front seat to witness what may get in the way of achieving that goal. During her tenure at the OSTP, Maxon worked to advise the President on many science and technology issues, reviewed regulations from the EPA, FDA, USDA, and developed initiatives, like the National Bioeconomy Blueprint. She advised that anyone interested in learning about, or working in, science and technology policy should review the document Science and Technology Policymaking: A Primer written by her colleague Deborah D. Stine.

Dr. Maxon dedicated the latter half of her career seminar to address current career trends, highlighting that less than 15% of PhDs enter into tenure-track positions. She referred to the recent NASEM report,
Graduate STEM Education for the 21st Century” as she discussed the recent push to reform graduate education in the United States such that the training is supportive and inclusive of the diverse nature of PhD scientists and the careers they enter into.

One of the critical elements to progressive change and democratic renewal in America is good public policy, and that is only made a reality by the inclusion of the scientific community in this endeavor. Throughout her career Dr. Maxon has led by example, inspired more than a few people in the process, and given us resources that we can use to be involved in the workings of our government.



Event write up by Libby Haywood and Santanu Ghosh

Science Policy Group Writing Workshop

A man stands speaking in front of an audience.

Workshop participants look on as Gus Greenwood reviews some tips and tricks for communicating your work to the public.

“Know your audience” –this was one of the key points addressed on Wednesday, February 6th at the first Science Policy Group Writing Workshop. In conjunction with the Writers Workshop on campus, the Science Policy Group Professional Development Committee held a 90-minute workshop on communicating science to non-scientists. The guest speakers included Ananya Sen, an experienced science communicator and doctoral candidate in MCB, and Carolyn Wisniewski, Director of the Writers Workshop, along with her co-presenter Gus Greenwood, an MS student in Environmental Engineering.

After a brief introduction to the Science Policy Group, Ananya kicked things off right away by having the 26 attendees participate in a stimulating mental exercise. She had them write down how they would explain their research to three different audiences: 1) An expert in their field, 2) A 5-year old, and 3) A peer not in your field. The exercise not only put their research in perspective, but also challenged them to remove the jargon. At the conclusion of the exercise, Ananya answered several audience questions about her journey, how she got started, and what she blogs about. Overall, the attendees felt that the activity and her personal experiences were a valuable part of the workshop.

For the remaining hour, Gus presented helpful pointers in communicating science to the public, such as knowing your audience and getting to the bottom line right away. He illustrated his point by giving an example of talking to his grandmother about his research –how could he pare down and use metaphors and similes? Gus then transitioned into an example of a form of science communication, a policy memo. He explained the basic structures of a policy memo and then introduced the upcoming National Science Policy Network memo writing competition. Many of the attendees expressed interest in the competition and with a March 1st deadline, the timing of the workshop was perfect.

As a final activity, Gus and Carolyn passed out examples of different samples for analysis, including a blog post from a well-known physicist, a Washington Post opinion article, and a few policy memos. After skimming through them and coming back as a group, they pointed out the differences in writing styles, target audience, and technical language used. There was productive conversation and discussion regarding the written examples and collectively, the group agreed that the writers were able to get their point across.

At the conclusion of the workshop, participants were satisfied overall with the workshop content and activities. They learned some valuable tips on communicating science to the general public and information on the upcoming memo writing competition. In addition, Carolyn and Gus provided everyone with additional resources available to them through the Writers Workshop. From Biochemistry to Food Science and Human Nutrition to Economics, the departments represented by the attendees were diverse but still united in the goal to communicate science to the public effectively. This workshop was a great introduction and springboard for future partnerships with the Writers Workshop and science communicators alike to help people from various science backgrounds communicate science to the public.


Event coordination and write up by Alisa King.

Networking Workshop

Participants practicing their networking skills!

Event Recap:

On September 4, the Science Policy Group Professional Development Committee, in collaboration with Derek Attig and Mike Firmand of the Graduate College, ran a networking workshop. The workshop primarily focused on learning how to craft elevator pitches targeting legislators and other governmental policy makers, as well as more general networking tips for a broader audience. We really wanted to create a single event where participants could both learn how to network and also have the opportunity to practice with experienced professionals, so we invited four additional faculty/staff members from the University to join us for a reception following the workshop. Those professionals were Dr. Ashlynn Stillwell of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Dr. Gay Miller of Veterinary Medicine, Doris Dahl of the Beckman Institute, and Melissa Edwards of the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research. Both Dr. Stillwell’s and Dr. Miller’s research inform policy, and they each have previous science policy work experience- Dr. Stillwell at the Congressional Research Service and Dr. Miller through the AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowship. Doris Dahl and Melissa Edwards are both experienced science communicators.

Derek and Mike ran the first 45 minutes of the workshop, giving a very interactive presentation on how to network, why it is important, and some common strategies. Tailoring this to the science policy group, Mike kicked off the session by having the group practice elevator pitches, pretending we were pitching our research or job idea to a policymaker. Participants commented that condensing their “pitch” down to 30 seconds was very difficult. Key takeaways here included to NOT to think of it as “dumbing down” the statement, but instead to choose words very carefully, and then practice, practice, practice!

For the next portion of the workshop, Derek gave a more general overview of networking. He emphasized acting as the “host” of the event instead of the “guest,” making sure to introduce yourself  to other people and to invite outsiders into your conversation. The goal is to have a few meaningful interactions, NOT to have one extended conversation or to meet as many people as possible. This part of the workshop easily led to the reception, where the professionals spread around the room and participants grabbed some refreshments and began networking with each other.

Over 40 people attended the workshop and event registration indicated that participants were from a variety of departments and at a variety of stages in their academic career (undergrad to post-doc and research staff). At the reception, the room was abuzz with conversation, and it looked like everyone who wanted to chat was able to find a conversation partner or group. We saw even saw some contact information being exchanged! Participants had positive things to say about their experience, and the faculty were enthusiastic about interacting with the Science Policy Group again in the future.