Read about all of our programs in our brochure!
Congressional Visits Day (CVD)
What is CVD?
Once a year, scientists and engineers convene in Washington, D.C. to discuss science and technology policy issues with their representatives in Congress. The program's aim is to convey to our elected officials the importance of science and technology funding. Policy makers from federal and non-governmental organizations, such as the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institute for Standards and Technology, teach participants about current organizational goals, funding issues, and policy priorities.
Over the past four years, MIT has sent nearly 50 students to CVD. MIT's delegation is unique in that it is entirely comprised of students, who can directly articulate the need for government-funded undergraduate and graduate level research opportunities. In years past, student involvement has garnered tremendously positive responses from Congressional offices.
What is the impact of the CVD experience?
"I left feeling energized, informed, a little more cynical, and thinking that this was by far the most important thing I could have been doing."
- Nicholas MacFarlane, G1 Biological Oceanography
"By thinking about how to communicate my work to peoplewith little knowledge of what I do, I am reminded of the wide-ranging implications of our research work, both technologically as well as societally. CVD is an eye-opening experience."
- Hiro Miyake, G4 Physics
Read more about the roles students played in CVD here:
Science Policy Bootcamp
The Science Policy Bootcamp is a 4-day short course, offered during MIT's Independent Activities Period in January, designed to introduce graduate students and post-doctoral fellows to the 'nuts and bolts' of science policy making. The course provides an opportunity for young scientists and engineers interested in science policy issues to increase their understanding about and practical involvement with science policy. The bootcamp serves to both expose participants to the fundamental structure and dynamics of science policy and inform them of routes into a policy experience or career.
The course is taught by William B. Bonvillian, Director of MIT's Washington, D.C. office, and examines such topics as:
- The organizing framework behind US science agencies, their missions and research organizational models
- The drivers behind science and technology support
- How science works in and advises the public policy process
Students say bootcamp is "extremely useful in particular for those who haven't had much policy exposure to the implications of their research" and "exceptional at explaining the thought process behind the research systems in the U.S."
Course information and materials from previous years is available at
stellar.mit.edu (MIT certificate required).
Information about the 2012 Bootcamp will be available in December!
Science Writing Workshop
SPI hosted the second Science Writing Workshop in the spring of 2011 with the overall goal of improving the way students at MIT express their ideas regarding science and technology. Led by Professor Tom Levenson of the MIT Science Writing Department and Tech Review editor David Rotman, 24 graduate students from several departments were introduced to the complexities and joys of writing scientific communication for a public audience. Professor Levenson and Mr. Rotman provided an extraordinary educational experience in 3 short hours, taking us through examples and interactive activities that placed students directly into the role of science journalists. From the heavy interest in the workshop and the positive student response, it was clear that many graduate students are keenly interested in public science communication and recognize its increasing relevance to social, political and economic issues. Graduate students lack accessible means for improving our science communication skills, however, and the SPI-organized workshop provided an important first step towards filling this gap.
In IAP 2012, SPI worked together again with the MIT Science Writing Program to provide another workshop. 35 participants were asked to read a variety of
articles geared towards a diverse set of audiences on topics ranging from
vaccines and autism to the science of the age of stars. They were then
expected to reflect on the science, message, and medium in order to analyze
existing journalistic pieces on these topics as well as to craft their own
best efforts at translating these topics to the layperson. The class was
attended by members of a wide range of technical communities, including
nuclear engineering, neurobiology, oceanography, chemistry, which helped to
emphasize the role that different perspectives can have in interpreting the
language chosen to convey scientific information to the general public.
Our science policy lunch series facilitates friendly, informal discussion between MIT students and science policy experts, from faculty and government policy-makers to professionals in industry and non-profits. Lunches are open to interested members of the MIT community and are announced on our website, our Google calendar, and over our mailing list. Previous guests and topics have included:
- Tavneet Suri, MIT Professor of Applied Economics; technology adoption and mobile money (June 2011)
- Subrata Ghoshroy, MIT Science,Technology, and Society Program Research Associate; dependence of academic R&D on military funding (May 2011)
- Cynthia Robinson, AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowships Director; opportunities available to AAAS fellows (May 2011)
- Venkatesh Narayanamurti, Director of Science, Technology, and Public Policy at Harvard's Belfer Center; the research ecosystem needed for innovative growth (April 2011)
- Lars Friberg, Swedish Embassy Office of Science & Innovation; challenges of diplomacy in energy and climate (March 2011)
Monthly Science Policy Discussions
On the first Tuesday of every month at 6pm, SPI invites interested students to participate in a discussion of a current topic in science policy. Recent discussion topics have included the future of the space program, hydrofracking, nuclear energy after Fukushima, and science education (led by guest Prof. James Gates, Director of Center for String &
Particle Theory at the University of Maryland and member of the President's
Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST)).
Federal Science Agency Visits
New in 2011!
Students from SPI will visit DOE, USDA, DARPA, NSF, OSTP, OMB, and the Dept. of State to
learn how scientists and policymakers tackle tech policy challenges and to explore
career paths for scientists in government.
Science Policy Graduate Orientation Event
New in 2011!
MIT's Vice President for Research Claude Canizares,
Technology & Policy Program Director Dava Newman, and Dean of Engineering Ian Waitz
spoke about their own involvement as scientists in policy issues, and student groups
described exciting opportunities to engage in policy. 65 students attended the first annual orientation event!
SPI is comprised of members from across the Institute. This serves our purpose well, as we seek to understand and address interdisciplinary challenges. To bring events to the MIT
community, we regularly collaborate with departments and programs-including the Career Center, TPP, and
EAPS. In turn, this practice allows SPI to expand its visibility on campus.
Science, Technology, and Policy Crossroads
SPI is dedicated to enhancing the connections among Boston-area science policy groups. Science, Technology, and Policy Crossroads is composed of representatives from SPI, TPP, and STS at MIT, and various organizations and programs at Harvard, Tufts, and Boston Universities. The second annual Crossroads Symposium was held in March 2011 at the Broad Institute, with a focus on biotechnology policy. A faculty panel and breakout sessions were followed by a networking session. Crossroads hopes to gradually grow the symposium to a national conference,and SPI is proud to be involved in its efforts.
National Science Policy Conferences
To extend our reach beyond Boston, six SPI members attended the 2011 AAAS Annual Meeting and presented a poster on the mission, activities, and structure of SPI as amodel for student organizations at other institutions. Conference attendance served as a new avenue for networking nationally with students with similar interests. We introduced SPI to many in the science policy community and thereby showcased MIT
as a strong supporter of students' engagement in society and policy. We hope to continue sending members to national conferences to advance the mission of SPI and raise visibility for MIT's commitment to sound science policy.
MIT Science Policy Initiative as a model
SPI can serve as a model to other institutions, exemplifying MIT's support for scientists engaged in society.To date, SPI has been consulted for advice on group formation at Harvard University, Harvard Medical School, Cornell University, and Chapman College. Additionally, SPI is in communication with the Forum on Science Ethics & Policy, Scientists & Engineers for America, and the American Association of Universities to establish a nationwide network of student science advocates. SPI is poised to be a nationwide leader in theengagement of students in science policy.
SPI will form databases of former SPI members and of MIT alumni currently working in policy-related fields. Established, regular communication with alumni working in policy will provide networking opportunities and a wealth of career information for our student members. We have begun developing a mentorship program with the
MIT Alumni Association. We plan to match students interested in policy careers with an alumnus or alumna working in the students' interest area for informal mentorship. SPI will facilitate mentor-mentee interactions by holding networking events during Washington visits.
Science Policy Certficate Program
SPI seeks to demonstrate interest in and promote the establishment of a Science Policy Certiﬁcate Program at
MIT for science and engineering graduate students. No such program currently exists for PhD students with strong policy interests, though other institutions have notable programs of this kind. SPI leadership will work with the MIT administration to pursue this option.