Jennifer Brown talks about taking the leap into science policy

Oct 09, 2020

Jennifer Brown is a graduate student at the University of Minnesota, studying how synuclein proteins contribute to neurodegenerative diseases. She is also an active member of the Communications and Diplomacy Committees and is an inaugural member of the SciPol Scholars program. Jennifer sits down to share her journey into science policy.

A photo of Jennifer Brown outside on a dock. She is wearing a pink sweater and sunglasses, and there is a boat in the background.

Reflecting on my experiences, it turns out that I was engaging in science policy opportunities long before I knew how to articulate I was interested in science policy. It gradually dawned on me that some of the people making policy for science had no idea what the impact of their rules would be on the scientists at the bench. For example, some record-keeping requirements can get completely out of hand when you are doing experiments with dozens of animals and multiple injections per animal. I reached out to our Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) and was able to get approval for alternate record keeping. This was an instance where I started to engage and become a more active participant in advocacy outside of doing marches or going to advocacy days for specific issues. I was also involved in research about public acceptance of human-animal chimeras. Our results show that the American public is generally supportive of this research, despite U.S. policy on the issue being stagnant for years. So while these activities are all related to science policy, that wasn’t my initial motivation.

What sharpened my science policy interests further were two things: the inequities and mis-information surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and the murder of George Floyd. I’m a student at the University of Minnesota. George Floyd was killed just blocks away from my gym. It was incredibly difficult to focus on lab work, even when we were allowed to return to labs safely, due to this social reckoning our country was having.

My research is important, but now was the time to work on science policy for racial justice. I became interested in the policy of tear gas use in the U.S. and led a group of other students in writing an op-ed. That interest was the foundation of a policy memo I wrote for the SciPol Scholars program where I investigated different policy solutions in greater depth. The ability to apply for the SciPol Scholars program was what finally convinced me to join NSPN.

Looking back, I remember coming across NSPN when it was in its early budding phase. I found it interesting, but not necessarily worth the $20 in membership because my mindset at the time was that the fee would equal 5 cups of tea pick-me-ups. So, I passed on the opportunity to join the network. If only I could go back and tell myself to do it, because NSPN has been worth every penny. Participating in the SciPol Scholars program was a great way to meet other early career researchers with similar passions but complementary interests, and to start building a network in the science policy community. Since I took the plunge and paid my 5-cups-of-tea fee, I have greatly enjoyed participating in, and learning from, the Communications and Diplomacy committees at NSPN.

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Jennifer loves to read science fiction and fantasy novels, spending time with animals and loved ones, cooking, and a good glass of wine. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.

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