Science Policy Group at USC Prepares for a Time of Transition

Engaging in science policy in a virtual format requires hard work and collaboration. Liana Engie from the Science Policy Group at the University of Southern California shares the group’s recent successes and upcoming plans.

The logo of the Science Policy Group at the University of Southern California. It consists of four circles arranged in a tetrahedral pattern and connected by thick green lines.

What is your chapter’s mission?

The USC Science Policy Group brings together undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty with a shared interest in incorporating sound science into policy decisions. We aim to engage diverse disciplines (earth sciences, public policy, environmental studies, biology, computer science, and others) in a discussion about science and policy, while providing a platform to learn from one another’s backgrounds and experiences.

What are some of your chapter’s current projects or recent successes?

Our current projects are mostly discussions and speaker events on various science policy topics. We are focusing on introducing new students to issues where science, technology, and policy interact as well as career options. This has ranged from misuse of scientific jargon on commercial products to genetic privacy to what the role of a local city’s Sustainability Manager is and how she manages her limited resources to get as much engagement and progress done as possible.

Both co-presidents are graduating from USC, and our executive membership has not yet recovered from graduations two and three years ago, so we’re working on getting people in who want to continue taking the club forward.

Honestly, it feels like a success that we’ve had a series of events throughout the semester, and last year, with the co-presidents finishing up their programs and the pandemic making it difficult to recruit while we’ve been teaching and finishing up our own research and other outreach activities.

How has the pandemic impacted your work?

The pandemic has affected the group a lot. It is easier for people to join online meetings, but it also feels like we get more distracted listeners, less engagement, and a lot of people who email apologizing for getting the time incorrect and not joining the calls. We get participation in events, but fewer people who are interested in helping to plan events or interested in getting more involved with leadership.

This could be a function of leadership getting busier or more tired, perhaps, but we also have shifted in the kinds of events we do. There are fewer advocacy events and more straight discussions or speaker panels. The club is very driven by the interests of our current membership, though, and it could just be that we’ve seen less of a drive for SciPol Group to cover that, or many other groups getting involved in advocacy, which has been a trend in the past 5 years or so.

What are you most excited about in the next few months?

If possible, having more in person meetings to bring people together safely for our panels and discussions. Online meetings have allowed for a greater range in speakers and made it easier for more people to join meetings, but the connection and discussion is very different. In January we are having an in-person panel on universal healthcare policy as well as a discussion over provided dinner about reintroducing extinct species, which we think will be a really compelling topic.

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To learn more about the Science Policy Group at the University of Southern California, visit their website.

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