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I gave my first tour bright and early on Monday morning, and I thought it went very well. The group was small (two people) so I was able to keep a consistent conversation going with them, and I don’t remember flubbing too many tidbits about the Capitol. By the end of the week, I had given three tours, and I now feel pretty comfortable as a tour-giver.
One of the other tours was for a group of eight (two families, a relatively difficult tour to give, but I think it went well), and the other was for my fellow SPS interns and faculty, which Travis and I co-hosted. After the tour, I sat down with Dr. Mather, Rep. Foster, and some of the SPS/ACP/AIP faculty in the Congressman’s office to discuss internships and life as a physicist-turned-Congressman. It was the second time I’ve been able to sit down with the Congressman, and he confirmed my opinions that he is a very smart, analytical guy. Dr. Mather was also a lot of fun to talk to – he was knowledgeable, sharp, and quirky.
The week ended sadly as I came down with the flu (or possibly some mild but lingering food poisoning) and missed work on Friday. This was particularly sad because I was scheduled to sit in on a meeting between the Congressman’s staffers and (if I recall) a group of or a group speaking on behalf of medical physicists, which would’ve been fascinating. I hope I’ll have another opportunity like this before my internship ends. Also, I missed the House vote on the energy bill, though I was able to track it from home.
And for the curious reader: the rest of the SPS interns wrap up their work this week, but I will be staying on at the Congressman’s office for another three weeks. This is because their office couldn’t accommodate me until mid-July, and to only spend three weeks there would be a short stay. So, I’ll give a final presentation with the other interns next week, but I’ll return to work on Thursday, and move from our GW housing to WISH housing (near the Hill) on Saturday.
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At the end of my second week, I now feel comfortable in my role as an intern on the Hill. I’ve overcome my fear of verbal confrontation and I answer the phones with abandon. I’ve also become a master letter-opener and email-sorter. This is good for the office atmosphere because my fellow interns now see me as helpful and as an asset, not as an anchor weighing down their productivity. Unfortunately, I have answered so many phone calls in the last week that whenever I hear the sound of an office phone ringing, my right hand reflexively shoots out to answer it and my mouth opens in anticipation of greeting the caller with “Congressman Foster’s office, how can I help you?”. This is great for the office, but troublesome in other situations.
The only responsibility I have not yet grown comfortable with is giving tours. This is somewhat unsurprising; tours require flexing my interpersonal and historian skills for a full hour or so, whereas phones only need a quick minute of commitment. I have shadowed other interns on a couple tours, and I’m slated to give my first tour early next week. I gave a practice tour on Friday, and I was pleased to note that the various rooms/statues/miscellany consistently jogged my memory and helped me remember what facts and stories I should offer the tour.
Last, some of the SPS interns took a trip to Ocean City, Maryland for the weekend. Despite some car troubles, it was a fun 48 hours at the beach.
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After a tearful departure from SEA, I started the second part of my internship this week as an intern in Congressman Bill Foster’s office. The work has been exciting thus far. My goal as a Congressman’s intern is to help constituents connect to their representative and their government. To this end, my primary responsibility is to sort through correspondence from constituents and direct them to the appropriate staffers. This may sound simple, but it is a daunting task. The office receives hundreds of emails, faxes, letters, and postcards per week, and constituents regularly call in to voice their concerns. It is my job to make sure their voices are heard by the right people.
Fortunately, the office has a great atmosphere and all of the other interns and staffers have been exceedingly helpful in accommodating me. Two other full-time interns have been showing me the ropes, and the Congressman’s handful of staffers have also gone out of their way to make sure I feel comfortable doing my job and speaking to constituents.
The interns and staffers are my immediate co-workers and bosses, but on Tuesday, I was fortunate to sit down for a few minutes to get acquainted with the Congressman. I left our conversation not at all surprised that he had been a very successful physicist and businessman. He was simultaneously thoughtful and quick-thinking, and though we touched on a broad range of topics, ranging from the future of Fermilab to how the housing crisis could’ve been avoided, it was clear that he had spent time pondering each issue. I look forward to working on his behalf.
As an intern, I am also given the opportunity to hear a variety of interesting lectures, which my intern coordinator (and office scheduler) has encouraged me to take advantage of. On Thursday, I attended a briefing hosted by the Advancing Futures of Adults with Autism initiative (fascinating for me because a tennis friend of mine from Duke, well into adulthood, lives independently with autism) and on Friday, I listened to a lecture and Q&A session hosted by House Finance chairman Barney Frank (also fascinating because many of my friends are beginning banking careers this fall).
In all, the first week was exciting, eventful, and (hopefully) and indicator that my time as a Hill intern will be a great experience.
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This was my last week at SEA. Congress was out of session for the week because of Independence Day, which made for a relatively quiet week – no hearings were held but I did attend a briefing hosted by EESI on the State Energy Program. SEP was part of the 2009 Stimulus package and sought to provide grants for state-run energy projects. It was cool to hear about the success the program has had since its inception.
Other than the EESI hearing, I spent the rest of my week wrapping up my work at SEA, learning about heat waves for SEA’s Friday Trivia question (Did you know: in the 1920s, a town in Australia once had 160 consecutive days where the temperature peaked at above 100 degrees F? Pretty crazy.), and enjoying a nice lunch on Friday with Brie (my SEA advisor), Kendra (my SPS advisor), and Gary (director of SPS) to celebrate my time at SEA. Having previously resisted being reflective about my time there, it was interesting to think back on my first six weeks in Washington. The various personal landmarks I encountered in this time – my first hearing, my first conversation with a Congressman, the moment I starting feeling comfortable on the Hill – were fun to recount for the first time out loud.
Next week, I will begin work as an intern in Congressman Bill Foster’s office. He represents Illinois’s fourteenth district, is a Democrat and was a physicist before running for office. He worked at Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois for many years (not coincidentally, Batavia is part of the 14th), and while working on the CDF detector at Fermilab, he helped discover the top quark. I’m very excited to meet him (my graduate work will be at CERN, the next generation of particle collider experiments) and I hope to have as much fun in his office as I’ve had at SEA.
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This was my second-to-last week at SEA, and it will be remembered as the most hearings/briefings I’ve attended in a single week. The list includes a briefing by the EESI on the future of grid technology; a House S&T hearing on the polar satellite program; a House Armed Services hearing on wind farms’ impact on military readiness; a House S&T hearing on 21st century biology; a Senate Energy and Natural Resources hearing on operations in the Outer Continental Shelf; and a House S&T hearing on the grid. Note that the polar satellite hearing and wind farm hearing were held simultaneously (Tuesday at 10 a.m.), so I actually needed to watch the webcast online in order to write about it. Unfortunately, I was unable to write about all of these events lest my fingers break down, but I enjoyed them all thoroughly.
My week concluded with a tour of NIST, hosted by fellow interns Zach and Amy. The facilities were very cool, and all of the scientists we spoke to were enthusiastic about their work and happy to show us around their labs. Our tour focused on semiconductors, nanotechnology, and metrology. Another perk of the tour is that I’ll be able to write about it for SEA – NIST labs are working on a variety of projects which could impact policy and have been impacted by policy, and their focus on multidisciplinary experiments could serve as a model for other large labs.
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Like the previous two weeks, I spent most of this week in the office and on Capitol Hill blogging about assorted hearing and briefing I attended. The most interesting hearing was held by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources to discuss a bill which would accelerate the production of plug-in hybrid vehicles (called electric drive vehicles, or EDV) in the US. This was my first in-depth look at hybrid vehicles, and the technology seems very promising. Plug-in hybrids are set to be available to the public in late 2010 (specifically, the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt), and this bill sought to accelerate EDV technological advances in order to help the vehicles penetrate the market.
Unfortunately, energy legislation has not yet provided the wealth of interesting hearing I’d hoped for. Most of the discussions are going on behind closed doors as Senators and the White House decide which features to include in a bill to bring to the Senate and whether enough votes will be available to sidestep a filibuster. For instance, a key feature of the Kerry/Lieberman energy bill was a price (of sorts) on carbon emissions, but this seems to have (steeply) fallen out of favor with the other side of the aisle – at this point, I doubt the Senate will pass any bill which includes the phrase “cap-and-trade”.
Last, I was able to use some of my Perl skills in a side project to compile a list of bills which deal with science, health, technology, and other issues relevant to SEA. To do this, I wrote a script which looked at each bill listed on the Washington Post database (http://projects.washingtonpost.com/congress/111/bills/) and parsed the summary for key words like science, energy, environment, and so on. If the bill matched one or more of the key words, the bill’s title was spit into a text file. This list of bills will be used by SEA interns when perusing candidates’ voting history.
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This week, I split time between the SEA offices and Capitol Hill and blogged about two events: an EESI briefing on the future of biogas (very interesting stuff) and a briefing on the Commercial Buildings Initiative (also very interesting, and very relevant -- as I mentioned in the blog, commercial buildings account for about 20% of US energy use and GHG emissions). I feel settled in for the summer with this routine of spending about half the week on the Hill writing blogs and the other half at SEA performing various tasks. I’m looking forward to blogging the next couple weeks as energy legislation in the Senate is starting to get serious.
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I spent most of this week on Capitol Hill, and it was a great experience. I attended a handful of hearings and briefings on behalf of SEA on a variety of topics, including a hearing on oil spill cleanup methods held by a House Science and Technology subcommittee and a briefing on how the public views global warming held by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute. I am in the process of writing blog entries on these events, which will be posted online soon.
When I wasn’t attending hearings and briefings, I spent time in the SEA offices preparing for the events, writing up blogs, and performing old-school intern tasks (mailing assorted items, transcribing an interview). Another wave of interns will be arriving next week, so my duties might be shaken up a bit; for now, though, I’m really enjoying my work. And, now that the 2010 primaries are fully underway, I’m looking forward to having more information (interviews, speeches, statements) with which to track how science is affecting the upcoming Congressional and gubernatorial elections.
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Today was our first day as SPS interns. As a group, we headed to the American Institute of Physics in College Park, MD for orientation. The commute was about an hour by Metro, and it made me appreciate that I will be working in the city, where the commute will be less time-consuming.
At AIP, we met a handful of people involved with AIP, SPS, and other physics organization based in the DC area. They were all very welcoming and kind, and they were eager to talk to us about our summer work plans. The common theme of the morning was that this summer would be full of opportunities, and that we should do our best to explore these opportunities and maximize our time in DC. As a policy intern, this seemed particularly wise advice. John Mather, who provided the funding for my internship, could not attend the orientation, but I was told he is eager to meet Travis (the other Mather intern) and me in the near future.
In the afternoon, Jen (a Mather supervisor), Travis and I returned to the city and visited Capitol Hill. We poked around the area for a few minutes before heading in and taking Travis to the House Committee on Science and Technology offices, which will be his workplace for the summer. It seemed like a fun place to be, and the group already had events planned for him to attend during the week. After leaving Travis with the HCST, Jen and I walked to Congressman Bill Foster’s office, which I’ll be interning for in the latter half of the summer. Though Mr. Foster was not in the office (Congress is currently not in session), I met some of the other people working in his office, and they were very friendly and happy to have me on board. I’m looking forward to spending time there later.
For the first half of the summer, however, I will be working at Scientists and Engineers for America, which is where Jen and I visited next. Their office is located on M street, just south of Dupont Circle, which is within walking distance of my dorm at GWU. At SEA, we spoke with my advisor about what kind of work I would be doing. It sounded very fun. SEA is a non-profit group seeking to promote sound, science-based policy-making and encourage scientists to contribute to political discourse. My work there could involve a number of things, such as blogging about political events pertaining to science policy or hosting a lecture on relevant science topics. In all, I think my work at SEA will be engaging and enjoyable, and I will get to learn a lot about science-based policy from an interesting perspective.
In my first few days at work, I focused on getting to know SEA and its goals as an organization. As described on SEA’s website, their goal is to promote evidence-based decision making in the government in four ways:
- Raising the level of debate on science policy during elections
- Encouraging people with scientific and engineering training to run for office
- Facilitating the participation of scientists and engineers in politics and civic life
- Educating the public about their elected officials’ positions of various science policies
SEA tries to fulfill these goals by running a website (sefora.org) which offers various articles, blogs, and information packets for interested readers.
As an intern, it will be my responsibility to help track science policy in the news (specifically, how science policy issues could affect the 2010 Congressional elections) by writing weekly blog entries about my experiences. In particular, on Wednesday and Thursday, I selected a handful of upcoming Congressional elections to research and tried to understand the candidates’ positions on various science and technology issues. I chose five districts whose Representative was listed by the Cooke Political Report as in danger of losing their seat.
Unfortunately, information on most of the candidates’ stances on S&T issues was somewhat scarce. After all, the elections aren’t until next fall (primaries haven’t even been held yet), so the campaign trail was relatively barren.
On Friday, I took a break from my policy-tracking work to attend a talk on the Hill entitled “Climate Change and National Security”. The talk was split into two parts – one speaker explained the Navy’s response to climate predictions in the coming decades, and the other spoke to how climate change could exacerbate global, geopolitical conflicts – and lasted about two hours. I thought the talk was great, and I enjoyed writing a short blog entry about it (around 700 words) for SEA.
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