Just a quick musing on my future in this penultimate post as the 2011-2012 GLC fellow…
As I’ve started my final quarter and have begun to consider options for the next phase(s) of my life/career, I’ve found myself trying to decide whether policy or science is a better fit for me. My time at the GLC has been my first formal exposure to policy work, and I have gained an incredible amount of information and experience thus far. Moreover, I have been able to weave my knowledge of scientific processes, nuances, and argot into the work that I do here. All in all, it has been a refreshing blend of the two realms. However, the more thought and consideration I devote to the decision, the more I feel that science – or a position with a slightly heavier emphasis on research – is the right fit for me. And, as one of my favorite aspects of being a biologist is finding opportunities for community outreach and education, my position at the GLC as only helped to further hone my skills in this regard! In the last ten months, I have interacted with countless community members, stakeholders, researchers, natural resource managers, and politicians. Each group has challenged me to exercise different muscles, to practice and perfect a different set of communication skills. I now have a better understanding of how science is used to solve real-world problems, how to communicate technical information to policy makers and other stakeholders clearly, concisely, and effectively. Perhaps most importantly – and what I’d really hoped to gain from this fellowship – I was able to see the bridge (or sometimes lack thereof) between the research and policy spheres from a new perspective. There is a pipeline between research and policy that at times runs woefully dry. Laws and regulations, subject to the surging tide of public and political will, may be passed into action with or without consideration of the best possible science. Sure, environmental impact assessments and the like are mandated in the process of developing new regulations. But what about the other research initiatives being conducted in the same field? What do those objectives and methods reveal that can add to what we hope is an ever-growing knowledge base on all things Great Lakes? My point is that in the sometimes hurried, compressed manner that politics operates, innovative and enlightening science may be easily overlooked. The linkages among researchers, resource managers, facilitators, and policy makers are not always clear or even necessary. It is impressive, however, how much progress stands to be made when we (<<puts on scientist hat>>) make the effort to partner with facilitating agencies like the Great Lakes Commission, that can quickly, effectively, and powerfully disseminate technical results with elevated relevance.
Sorry, did I say a quick musing? I guess I meant a moderate rambling. Take home message? I have seen the gap from both sides now (cue Joni Mitchell…). I have new knowledge and skills that will allow me to continue to work to keep the pipeline flowing between science and policy. Research, in all its tantalizing muddiness, is certainly pulling me back in its direction. But with my enhanced communication and facilitation skills gained at the GLC, who knows where I’ll end up? I can see this morphing into some personal musings about what I still keep on the table for what I want to be when I “grow up” (Broadway star, roadside veggie merchant in Tibet, dinosaur-specific children’s lit. illustrator, professional badminton player, etc.), but that could easily get out of hand. Anyway, stay tuned for a final update at the end of May!
Great Lakes Commission Fellow
(6/2011 – 6/2012)