“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