MIT strives to be a leader not only in technical research, but also in supporting research and innovation at the policy level. With the explosion of scientific and technical issues in policy and law over the past decades, sound science among policymakers has never been more critical. As members of the new generation of scientists, MIT students recognize the need for improved communication between the technological and policy communities. To answer this need, MIT’s student-run Science Policy Initiative (SPI) is starting a new program to educate students first-hand about the role scientists and engineers play in national government agencies.
At the end of this month, SPI will send nine student representatives to Washington, D.C. Students will spend three days meeting with scientists and policymakers at the Department of Energy, the Department of Agriculture, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the National Science Foundation, the National Academy of Sciences, the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of State. The students will also receive a briefing from William Bonvillian, director of MIT’s Washington Office, and visit the American Association for the Advancement of Science. During the visits, students will learn about how scientists and engineers shape federal science policy and explore possible career paths in policy.
The Federal Science Agency Visits will become an annual SPI program enabling students to explore their interests in science policy on-site and gain practical experience. The new program was designed to complement the annual Congressional Visits program, when SPI brings a delegation of MIT students to advocate for science funding on Capitol Hill. In April, 20 students visited more than 30 Congressional offices to present their own groundbreaking research and discuss the adverse consequences of proposed cuts to R&D funding in the 2011 appropriations bill.
Founded in 2007, SPI is an organization working to foster civic engagement and policy awareness among scientists and engineers at MIT. SPI is run by graduate students and open to the MIT community. Its activities range from an IAP course and visits to Washington, D.C., to journal club, discussions with policy experts and science communication workshops.