William Ota Impacts Local Communities Through Science and Policy

In the spirit of Halloween, the National Science Policy Network held a virtual costume contest to spark creativity among members. We chatted with the winner of the contest, William Ota, to learn more about his science policy involvement.

An image of William Ota, waist-deep in a river with rocks in the background.

Hi, my name is William Ota, and I am a Ph.D. student in the Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology department at UC Riverside. For my dissertation, I am studying urban freshwater ecology using the Santa Ana River as a model system in order to determine how wastewater and other urban disturbances are altering community dynamics. To complete this work, I collaborate with USGS, USFWS, local conservation districts, and water boards to conduct fieldwork, fund experiments, and conduct conservation work. I believe that my research and work with collaborators will help to conserve biodiversity in the Santa Ana River and benefit ecologists and conservationists in other urban waterways.

I became interested in the role of politics on science when I worked as a biological science technician for USGS. My position was always in danger of being cut because it was a temporary field job. This led me to realize how all-encompassing the government’s role is in regulating and funding the sciences. Everything from my fieldwork permits to the federal funding of higher education enables the continued work of scientists. This led me to join UCR Science to Policy (S2P) during my first year in graduate school. This program has helped me form new career goals and guide me so I can more effectively pair my dissertation work with science policy training. I am especially interested in legislative efforts to proactively address climate change’s impacts on society.

What is your involvement within NSPN?

I joined NSPN in 2019 at the AAAS symposium in Washington, DC. S2P and NSPN shared a booth and I got to know the NSPN leadership team there. Since that conference I have participated in a variety of workshops, committees, and NSPN-led efforts thanks to those relationships. My favorite experience so far was being a co-instructor with Derreck Carter-House for the inaugural class of NSPN SciPol Scholars. I got to meet so many amazing early-career scientists and I’m excited to do more with this group in the future.

My current project that isn’t directly run through NSPN is organizing a writing group of NSPN members from around 20 different institutions for the upcoming JSPG Special Topics Issue on Climate Change Solutions.

Are you involved in any science policy activities outside of NSPN?

At UC Riverside, I am a member of S2P, a science policy organization Holly Mayton and Drew Story founded in 2018. As a first-year, I served as S2P’s Government Relations Chair, in my second year I was fortunate enough to serve as S2P’s Executive Chair and now have returned to the Government Relations Chair role I initially held. S2P has provided amazing training and growth opportunities that wouldn’t have been possible from peer and faculty mentors in the program. I have learned so much about working in universities by helping S2P apply to become a UC research center, develop fundraising materials with our campus fundraisers, and develop long-term programs, including a science policy certificate and science policy fellowship program.

In addition to this other work, I have competed for and won the UC Center Sacramento Stem Solutions in Science Policy competition in 2020 and was selected to participate in the 2020 CCST Science Translator Showcase. These experiences with S2P and NSPN have cemented my desire to continue working in science policy.

How did you celebrate Halloween this year?

My wife and my favorite Saturday activity is trying new coffee shops, so we went to a new shop in our area before we grabbed breakfast burritos at our favorite restaurant. We brought everything back and relaxed on our apartment patio and read some books after breakfast. I recently started The Wheel of Time and am obsessed. In the afternoon, we went out to the store to pick up pumpkins, pumpkin beer, candy, and some fall cupcakes from our local bakery. Halloween night, we watched Below Deck and enjoyed our Halloween treats.

A photo of a man wearing fake leaves over his shirt and a woman wearing a straw hat.

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To learn more about William, follow him on Twitter @Willie_Mota.

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