Samantha Werth Finds New Opportunities and Lessons in Science Policy

Samantha Werth graduated from University of California-Davis in August with her PhD in Animal Biology and she is now working as an Idaho Science and Technology Policy Fellow.

Can you tell us a bit more about your fellowship position?

The Idaho Science & Technology Policy Fellowship is a relatively new state fellowship opportunity. I am in a split appointment, spending half of my time working with the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and half with the Idaho Governor's Office of Energy and Mineral Resources (OEMR). My work at DEQ is focused on addressing harmful algal blooms (HABs), a topic of growing importance in Idaho and across the US. I'm working to help revamp their state HABs Response Plan and also conducting a resource analysis on the current state response to HABs. At OEMR, I am helping to research a few different energy topics relevant to Idaho (Reliability and Resilience, Alternative Transportation Fuels, and Energy Storage) and will be helping to write up reports on these topics throughout the course of the year. I am also working on developing a proposal for a possible new funding program that would be supported by the recently passed Infrastructure Bill. My favorite part of the position so far has been the opportunity to apply my research background to areas completely different from my trained area of expertise. It is incredible to see how the skills I obtained in my PhD program transfer seamlessly over to these new roles!

How did you become interested in science policy? How did you find NSPN?

My interest in science policy stems from my enthusiasm for science communication and experiences working in extension during grad school. I love talking about my research, which focuses on the nexus of livestock production and sustainability, to any and everyone. With such a polarizing topic, I became interested in science policy as it is the place where communicating my research, and science surrounding agriculture in general, can have the most impact. I was fortunate enough to participate in the California Council on Science and Technology Science Translators Showcase before the pandemic. In our training leading up to the event, I learned about all of the opportunities available to scientists wanting to go into policy and NSPN was one of the opportunities that stood out. I joined right away, but was also in peak dissertation mode, so I've only just recently been able to really take advantage of the incredible opportunities and community at NSPN!

What have you learned about science and policy from the COVID-19 pandemic?

If the pandemic has taught me anything, it is that effective science communication and an eye towards inclusivity are absolutely essential components to policy. It has been interesting, as a scientist, to watch how the US has responded to the pandemic at National, State, and even county levels. I find myself often thinking about how important it is in science communication to be aware of who you are speaking with and to always work to establish common ground so that trust can be established. Without that trust, science and policy can quickly become at odds.

Any recent accomplishments or projects you’d like to share related to science policy, advocacy, or communication?

Communication related, I recently co-authored a publication with Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam from UC Davis, "Animal Agriculture and Alternative Meats - Learning from Past Science Communication Failures", which is Animal's featured article of the month! Science policy related, I am helping to build out a new NSPN chapter, the Idaho Science Policy Network, and am serving as Vice Chair on the NSPN Chapter Support Committee.

What do you enjoy doing outside of science policy?

Outside of policy I enjoy training in Olympic Weightlifting, hiking, and exploring my new city, Boise, ID!

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To learn more about Samantha, follow her on Twitter: @SamJWerth

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