Farewell To Chad English: A Pioneer At The Science-Policy Interface

Chad at the April 2015 Wilburforce Fellows training in Seattle.

We like to think that our work speaks for itself, through the scientists we train, the communities we build, and the conversations we spark. As coaches, connectors and enablers, we are intentionally and happily behind the scenes. We prepare, support, and cheer for the researchers on the front lines to share their scientific insights with the world. This week I want to focus on one of our behind-the-scenes champions – Dr. Chad English, whose last day here at COMPASS was May 1st. He pioneered our work at the science-policy interface, and his influence will be felt for years to come.

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Field Notes: Reflections From The Policy Front Lines

The 2003 Knauss Fellows interviewed for this post in 2003 with then-NOAA Admiral XXX, clockwise from top left: Barbara Piechel, Rachel Feeney, Bridget Ferriss, and Sunshine Menezes.

When Chad and I prep scientists to participate in policy briefings, we often share our own experiences of entering the policy arena for the first time as Knauss Marine Policy Fellows.  Chad talks about finishing his dissertation on a Friday in 2005 and showing up the following Monday in the Senate Commerce Committee, bright-eyed, bushy tailed, and expecting to bring the latest scientific discoveries to members of Congress. Only then he discovered that Congressional offices don’t have direct access to journal articles (or even read academic papers). I tell scientists about the time I spent on the Hill in 2003, helping to draft bill language for reauthorization of the Marine Mammal Protection Act in the House Committee on Resources – I was suddenly expected to be an expert on marine mammals and on how to write arcane legislative language… neither of which were part of my actual skill set at the time.

Chad and I have both incorporated insights from our Knauss fellowship experiences into our current work with COMPASS at the intersection of science and policy. When COMPASS does communications and policy trainings for scientists, we talk about the idea that understanding these cultural differences is the key to making effective connections between the two worlds. I’ve been especially curious to hear what others experienced when they stepped out of science and into the policy world, and since it’s been nearly 10 years since I started my fellowship in the Subcommittee of Fisheries, Oceans, and Wildlife in the House Committee on Resources, I decided to ask some of the other legislative fellows in my cohort.  Through a brief series of questions, I asked a few of them about the lasting take homes they see from their fellowship experience, how it has shaped their worldview, and to reflect on what they saw as key differences between the culture of science and the culture of policy. [Read more…]

The Federal Budget & You: Why Scientists Should Care About R&D Spending

Photo courtesy of the Council on Foreign Relation's Blog.

Last month, in a rare display of activism, hundreds of Canadian scientists took to the streets to protest, among other things, cuts to federal funding for environmental research and the forced closure of several research stations.  Their chant: “No science. No evidence. No truth. No democracy.”  Faced with the imminent loss of jobs and research funding across several key environmental programs, Canadian scientists are reacting vigorously to the indisputable link between the federal science budget and their academic livelihoods.

But in the absence of a critical funding crisis, scientists writ large often seem unaware of the critical role that the federal science budget plays in their daily lives. Here in the U.S., when scientists develop their research queries into proposals to the relevant federal agencies, most don’t stop to think about why that agency has issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) in that subject area or how that money came to be there. Many scientists don’t understand – much less engage in – the complex machinations of the Congressional appropriations process. [Read more…]