Tim Steeves shares his journey to a new science policy fellowship

Tim Steeves shares his journey to a new science policy fellowship

Tim Steeves - Tim graduated in 2020 from the University of Chicago with a PhD in Molecular Engineering where he was the founder of the UChicago Science Policy Group. From 2020-2021 he was one of the inaugural Science Policy Fellows at the Climate NGO Carbon180, where he focused on developing policy recommendations (1, 2).

Headshot of Tim Steeves


What was your doctoral research about?

My doctoral thesis was focused on developing a method to perform low temperature catalytic conversion of carbon dioxide into methane driven by solar heating. We used Nickel nanoparticles and simulated sunlight to created microheated environments around the nanoparticles that could allow for the high temperature Sabatier reaction to occur without bulk heating. This is what originally drew me into decarbonized fuels and carbon utilization technology.


How did you get involved in the science policy space?

I had a bit of an unusual journey through graduate school, I started at UC Irvine for the first few years of my PhD program, but moved with my adviser in my third year to UChicago. In the middle of all that I was doing my best to figure out what I wanted to do with my degree, since I was connecting less and less with research as a possible career.  

I had a short but very influential connection with UCI’s science policy group. Once I was settled at UChigaco, I began looking around for something similar to connect with. Once I realized there wasn’t a comparable organization, I started working to build something like that myself. Over the course of several years, we grew into an organization of dozens of active students and we connected with NSPN. It was an amazing experience connecting me to the world of science policy, and I got all sorts of amazing chances to learn what goes into that sort of work, attend conferences and symposiums, and develop my own programming for people at my school and in my program


What is Carbon180 and how did you learn about them?

Carbon180 is a pretty amazing organization focused on advancing carbon removal policy in the US. Carbon removal (or CDR) encompasses a huge suite of technologies in the agricultural and forestry sector, as well as more engineered solutions like Direct Air Capture or Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Sequestration. C180 prepares reports, white papers, blogs, and other publications and spends a lot of time engaging directly with policymakers, other NGOs and the media to socialize carbon removal and the policies they advocate for.

In June 2020, I was finishing up my PhD thesis when fellow UChicago SPG and NSPN member Gwen Gallagher (Hi Gwen!) sent me their call for applicants. My thesis work is directly related to specific technologies related to CDR, and Gwen thought I’d be an excellent fit. I agreed and dropped my thesis for a week to write the most intense job application I ever had. I had an interview a few months later and landed the position!


What was it like to work as a Senior Policy Fellow with them?

Carbon180 was trying out building a totally new fellowship program which was different from established programs like AAAS’s STPF. Myself and two other amazing fellows joined up at the end of Summer 2020 and we worked together with everyone at C180 to build an experience that would be valuable for all of us. We started with a deep dive into each of our respective areas, learning all we could about the policy and the science relevant to it. I had a wide umbrella working in federal regulation and dove headfirst into a massive field. After months of scoping this out, we pitched out policy recommendations to our team and received feedback. This was an exciting and crazy time but I had a blast learning all this new material and hearing about everything my awesome fellow fellows were doing.

The rest of the fellowship was turning those recs into something concrete and presentable to the public and policymakers. That was more like a traditional paper writing process, except I had to learn C180’s particular style and level of discourse. It was also amazing, but I hit a much bigger wall and grinding through it was hard. In the end though, I was able to put out some work I was really proud of and really make my mark on the C180 policy portfolio. It’s an amazing organization full of lovely people that do great work. I really recommend anyone in the climate or energy space keep an eye on them.


What do you enjoy doing outside of science policy?

AH! The scariest question for anyone coming out of grad school. I love stories of all sorts (books, TV, movies, games), and am looking forward to the Dune movie immensely. I really enjoy going out and spending time with friends doing goofy stuff like trivia or board games. Being outdoors is lovely when there are no bugs and I’ve been trying out some social sports and dancing since being in DC.

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To learn more about Tim, follow him on Twitter @TimAndScience.

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