The answer, I learned, was yes — just not exactly the type of scientist I might have thought. Through an internship with the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy I jumped into the world of policy. I fell in love with the work that I was doing, which involved using science to inform critical decisions on pollinator health and climate change. And I realized that being a scientist didn’t necessarily mean being chained to academia. Science had, once again, provided me an escape.
PhD in hand, I followed my new passion to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), where I applied my knowledge of climate change to policy choices that would impact the lives of everyday people. I loved every minute of it: I had found my calling. That is, until Donald J. Trump — who made no secret his views on the use of science to inform policy, particularly climate policy — won the 2016 presidential election. I left my post at the EPA.
But I didn’t turn my back on science. Science had been there for me for so long. Now that it was under threat, I felt like it was calling for me to give back, to protect it in some sense. So that’s what I’ve tried to do.
I soon landed a job that felt crafted just for me studying the intersection of science and democracy with the Union of Concerned Scientists. For the past four years I have fought tirelessly for the use of science to inform policy decisions that affect the health and safety of us all. I have advocated for stronger protections for federal scientists to do their work without political interference, something that’s all the more important given the Covid-19 pandemic. And I continue to conduct climate change research to inform policy decisions, such as estimating future flood risks at Superfund sites.
The Biden administration has brought hope that science will be restored to policymaking, but my work is far from over. I’ll continue to fight for better mechanisms to ensure that science remains independent from the whims of politics, to push for science to inform critical government decisions to protect the health and safety of the most underserved, and to advocate for science to guide our action on climate change.
But I’ll also fight because science might offer another little kid a safe space away from the dangers at home. Science might reassure someone else that their differences are perfectly okay. Science might even lead another Arkansas native down a path to their dream job. Science was always there for me, so now I am there for it.