From Oct. 23-24, a delegation consisting of 21 MIT students, one MIT postdoc, and four students from the University of the District of Columbia met in Washington for the MIT Science Policy Initiative’s Executive Visit Days (ExVD). Now in its 13th cycle, this trip offers a platform where university students and young researchers can connect with officials and scientists from different federal agencies, discuss issues related to science and technology policy, and learn about the role the federal government plays in addressing these issues.
The delegation visited seven different agencies, as well as the MIT Washington Office, where the group held virtual calls with personnel from the National Institutes of Health and the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health. Visits to the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy Office of Science, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), Environmental Protection Agency, and National Aeronautics and Space Administration then followed over the course of two days. The series of meetings, facilitated by the MIT Science Policy Initiative (SPI), offered a window into the current activities of each agency and how individuals can engage with science policy through the lens of each particular agency.
The Science Policy Initiative is an organization of students and postdocs whose core goal is not only to grow interest at MIT and in the community at large in science policy, but also to facilitate the exchange of ideas between the policymakers of today and the scientists of tomorrow. One of the various trips organized by SPI every year, ExVD allows students to gain insight into the work of federal agencies, while also offering the chance to meet with representatives from these agencies, many of whom are MIT alumni, and discuss their paths toward careers in science policy. Additionally, ExVD serves as an opportunity for participants to network with students, postdocs, and professionals outside of their fields but united by common interests in science policy.
“I believe it is critical for students with vital technical expertise to gain a sense of the realities of policymaking,” says Phillip Christoffersen, a PhD student researching AI in MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and SPI ExVD 2023 chair. “Due to the many complexities of modern life, we are simultaneously reaching tipping points in many fields — AI, climate change, biotechnology, among many others. For this reason, science and science policy must increasingly move in lockstep for the good of society, and it falls on us as scientists-in-training to make that happen.”
One example of the delegation’s visits was to the White House OSTP, located directly next to the West Wing at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. This special agency of fewer than 200 staff, most of whom are either in rotation or on loan from other federal agencies, directly reports to the president on all matters related to science and policy. The atmosphere at the White House complex and the exchanges with Kei Koizumi, principal deputy director for policy at OSTP, deeply inspired the students and showcased the vast impact science can have on federal policy.
The overall sentiment among the ExVD participants has been that of reborn motivation, having become inspired to participate in policy matters, either as a portion of their graduate research or in their future career. The ExVD 2023 cohort is thankful to the MIT Washington office, whose generous support was crucial to making this trip a reality. Furthermore, the delegation thanks the MIT Science Policy Initiative’s leadership team for organizing this trip, enabling an extremely meaningful experience.