Exploring the
World of Policy

The following blog post is by Bethany Williams, a graduate student at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), and Virginia Sea Grant (VASG) graduate research fellow, studying how global change will affect coastal invertebrate communities, and ultimately ecosystem function. It was originally posted on her own website.  

Williams participated in a Coastal and Marine Policy Expedition to Richmond March 8-10, 2017 with other VIMS students and VASG fellows to explore the science-policy interface through facilitated panel discussions with current coastal, ocean, and natural resource managers and policy makers in government, NGOs, and the private sector.

Last week, I had the opportunity to travel to Richmond, Virginia on a policy expedition with Virginia Sea Grant. Throughout my career, my interest in the science-policy interface has grown, along with my desire to participate in responsible natural resource management. To that end, I have tried to take advantage of as many policy-related professional development opportunities as possible. Last year, I participated in a similar trip, to Washington D.C., where our focus was understanding how science plays a role in policy at the federal level. This year, we applied this same question to the state level, aiming to understand how science is involved in policy decisions and what skills are needed to be successful working in the science-policy interface. We met with professionals from a broad range of roles within state government, from budgeting staff to deputy attorney generals and deputy secretaries of natural resources. After hearing the path each speaker took to their respective positions, we were able to ask questions about working at the science-policy interface. 

One of my biggest takeaways from this trip was that clear communication skills to non-science audiences are key. While many management decisions are informed by science, decisions are not necessarily made by scientists. Instead, professionals with widely varying backgrounds from law to public administration to science are making decisions and creating the policies that manage our natural resources. Therefore, being able to clearly communicate the science that is informing these policies is critical. In addition to discussing the importance of clear communication skills, it was beneficial just to learn about the differences between federal and state policy. As I continue to delve further in to the science-policy interface and develop my communication skills, I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to participate in this trip, and plan to utilize the insight gained to help me be more successful working at this interface as I progress in my career.

By Bethany Williams

Top: Writer pictured third from right in back, with the group on the VASG policy expedition. Photo credit VASG/Sam Lake.

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