E016 How To Hop From the Bench to Science Policy as a PhD? Adriana Bankston on Science Legislation

August 23rd 2020

Dr Adriana Bankston is a Principal Legislative Analyst in the University of California (UC) Office of Federal Governmental Relations, where she serves as an advocate for UC with Congress, the Administration, and federal agencies. Before this position, Adriana was a Policy & Advocacy Fellow at The Society for Neuroscience (SfN), where she provided staff support for special and ongoing projects, including SfN’s annual lobby event and the society’s annual meeting. In addition to working at UC, Adriana serves as Co-Director of the Policy Taskforce at Future of Research (FoR), a non-profit organization that empowers early career scientists. 

She is also Chief Outreach Officer at the Journal of Science Policy and Governance (JSPG), a non-profit and interdisciplinary peer review publication serving as a vehicle for early career researchers to publish on science policy topics. More recently, Adriana became a Biomedical Workforce & Policy Research Investigator at the STEM Advocacy Institute (SAi), a think-tank building tool to expand pathways of access between science and society. Adriana obtained her PhD in Biochemistry, Cell and Developmental Biology from Emory University and a Bachelor’s in Biological Sciences from Clemson University.

In this episode, Adriana told us about her impressive career transition and her long way from Biochemistry, Cell and Developmental Biology to Science Policy. What does it take to make the transition? How to build your career in Science Policy? What can you do early in your career to prepare for the industry position? Let’s find out!

Adriana’s LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/adrianabankston/ 

The episode was recorded on August 26th, 2020. This material represents the speaker’s personal views and not the views of their employer(s).

Natalia 00:10 Hello, everyone. This is yet another webinar by Welcome Solutions. In these webinars, we invite former researchers now working in the industry to tell us about their career stories and share their success stories. And we also invite career experts and we are interested in how to develop a great career having an academic background. If you would like to get more of such content, then please subscribe to our channel, and then you will never miss out on new content. We will be also very happy if you comment on the movie. If you have any comments or questions, that’s always appreciated.

Adriana Bankston made an amazing leap from biochemistry to science policy. It’s been a long way for her. I’m very excited that she’s with us today. She obtained her PhD in Biochemistry, Cell and Developmental Biology from Emory University, and a bachelor’s in biological sciences from Clemson University. And today Adriana is a principal legislative analyst at the University of California Office of Federal governmental relations, where she serves as an advocate for UC with Congress, the administration, and federal agencies.

In addition to working at UC, she serves as co-director of the policy task force at the future of research, a nonprofit organization that empowers early career researchers. She’s also chief Outreach Officer of the journal Science Policy and Governance, a nonprofit, an interdisciplinary peer-review publication serving as a vehicle for early career researchers to publish on science policy topics.

Recently, Adriana became a Biomedical workforce and Policy Research investigator of the STEM Advocacy Institute, a think-tank building tool to expand pathways of access between science and society. Great to have you, Adriana. We would be very happy to hear your story from your perspective. Thank you so much for accepting our invitation. And I give the floor to you now.

Adriana 02:26 Hi, everybody. I’m happy to be here. Most of my story basically starts from having been in academia and trying to figure out my own career path and in the process, I ended up developing resources, and also kind of being interested in the whole training process itself as having gone through this transition myself, but also wanting to help other people who are now coming through the pipeline and wanting to go into non-academic careers. I got my PhD from Emory in Biochemistry and Cell biology. I studied skeletal muscle. In health and disease, it was a really interesting project working on stem cells.

We use mouse models. I ended up working also on muscles in my postdoc at the University of Louisville. While I was there, I started realizing that there were not a lot of resources for postdocs in terms of career development. And again, I was trying to figure out my own path. I ended up essentially creating programs to address this gap. 

As far as creating a seminar that brought speakers to talk to postdocs about careers, I organized the regional symposium. Then from there, I got interested more broadly and looked at what training looks like at the national level and what it looks like for those who study these things, who train them, and how we train students.

I got involved in organizations that were a lot of university administrators and also started getting more involved in the policy side of things as a way to influence the research system. A lot of my journey from the bench to policy has been kind of at the intersection of training students, thinking about what that looks like, thinking about larger questions of how do we train the workforce, and what does that look like in terms of the policy space? The transition has gone through as Natalia said, a bunch of different nonprofits that I’ve been involved with that were either on the academic side or more policy. My own transition has been mostly through doing a fellowship at the Society for Neuroscience which was sort of my gap between academia and policy.

That was a good sort of mix of advocacy and training as well. That was a really good bridge to what I’m currently doing. Government relations for a university are still kind of at that point between academia and policy. That’s kind of where I seem to be and being able to translate knowledge from both sides or in both directions. We can talk more about specifics.

Natalia 06:05 I can add something to that. I think it’s amazing. Every time I talk to you, I think you’re very modest about your achievements so far. But the fact is that you made a really big leap in less than three years. Because to get from postdoctoral research in developmental biology to where you are now is a large career change. My experience is that researchers in STEM are not trusted easily when it comes to management positions and any positions that involve coming public communications. That’s at least my experience. I believe this was not easy. It was a long way to go.

And some questions that came to my mind when you were talking are, the fact that you went towards nonprofit organizations first, what was the main objective? Was it your strategy? You could easily transfer from academia to nonprofits? Or was it your goal at that point, that you were planning to work for nonprofits? Why did you choose this path?

Adriana 07:49 I was a postdoc and realized that there are a lot of things that postdocs need to address nationally and got interested in that as a research project to see how we study postdocs. And some people do that. I thought it was fascinating just from a research perspective. I realized that there are things that universities are not going to offer.

You need some sort of outside organization to either offer training or study things that they wouldn’t study in academia. A lot of this comes from government or nonprofits organizations from outside. My involvement with future research started from that. We were working on a postdoc salary project which is very motivating. I did this right after I left my postdoc and tried to improve the experience and make this more transparent and show how much postdocs are getting paid.

That was a kind of bridge again because we were studying something interesting and important. It was related to policy because this project was about federal labor law. This was kind of the connection between the academic world and the policy space in terms of how federal policy affected postdocs. I thought that was interesting in space to make an impact. I think nonprofits afforded a lot of freedom to do these sorts of things.

There are certain things that you can do that you may not be able to do in a university. Now, there are a lot more even inter-sector partnerships. There seems like universities will collaborate with consulting groups or nonprofits to offer something that they don’t have in their institution. It’s becoming more of a kind of collaborative space to train students and postdocs between institutions and other organizations.

Natalia 10:14 Guys, you can always ask questions during our conversation, so we will pick up your questions and address them. My next question would be, since a lot of people watching these materials, some of us never had anything in common with what you do today. We have the question, how does a career path look like? I mean, there are clear milestones that you have to reach. After PhD, there are these different posts, while you get professorships or assistant professor, or associate professor in most countries, so there is like a clear ladder. But what does it look like in policy? What is the next step for you?

Adriana 11:33 I’ll say science policy is a very broad term and can encompass a lot of different careers. There are a lot of different titles. My title goes from analysts to lobbyists to the other side of the spectrum. Analysts are more sort of you’re doing research or in the office. My job is between analysts and lobbyists. 

It’s also interesting being in this space doing government relations for universities, only one type of job. We’ve encouraged you to talk to other people who are in policy and other settings because it may be different. But by virtue of where I am right now, a lot of it ends up being connecting between researchers on UC campuses, and Capitol Hill.

They come to DC and advocate for their research, either individually or in different groups or events. My day-to-day is kind of a mix of those different meetings of different levels. As Natalia said, we intersect with Congress, federal agencies, and also other groups. We are sort of at the intersection of looking at what funding agencies are doing, what other groups are doing, like higher education groups. There are a lot of groups that focus on issues that affect institutions within the system. I think as compared to the PhD space, there’s a lot of project management and working in teams which is something that I took from there and is useful now.

I would say that a different policy is a very people-oriented job. You have a lot of time. You can be out there and be able to do it on the spot. You learn as you’re thrown into whatever’s happening. It’s very fast-paced which is maybe challenging for scientists because you’re used to practicing and preparing for some meeting that you have, which you still have to do but a lot of times things just happen.

You have to respond and kind of be on your feet and do something or write a statement quickly, or go have a meeting about something that just happened that morning. I think that’s exciting. That’s a skill to be learned for sure to be able to think on your feet and respond to different things. The interesting thing in my current role is that there are a lot of people from different backgrounds. I’m the only one that has a science PhD. It’s an interesting space to see how people from other backgrounds think about the same issues as people who are coming from the law or public health. We all work together to write some set of statements from the system on a specific issue.

That’s interesting. That was one of the things that they appreciated. When I applied for this position, I had a research background. And you can sort of understand both the perspective of the researcher and the perspective of the policymaker. You’re being kind of in this middle space but having gone through and lived through grad school and postdoc, you know what that’s like. That’s something that I think is valuable for them in terms of having a scientist in the office among other backgrounds.

Natalia 15:11 I have a question related to the management in your workplace. I’m very curious about how it looks like because recently, I work a lot doing field research and preparing for creating aptitude tests that I’m working on. And what I experienced is that people who work in public institutions often complain about very non-involved management. And when you think about it, it’s intuitive because private companies have to be very efficient. If they are not efficient, then they will not survive in the open job market. 

For private companies, management is the backbone that keeps a compact company together and allows the company to move forward. The bigger the company, the stronger the management because otherwise, it will just fall into pieces. Public institutions have this external inflow of money at all times and they don’t need to be as efficient.

In many cases, this is what people tell me here in the Netherlands. It’s the case that management is not evolved in daily life. If some unprecedented situation like the Corona crisis happens, then all of a sudden there has been chaos. That’s exactly the reason and the chaos can hold for weeks or even months. That’s why I’m curious. How does it look like in your environment? I like to ask who is your boss? And what is your relationship with your boss? What does the dynamic look like? And we’re very curious to hear more from your side.

Adriana 17:11 I think it’s probably unique to this specific role. Some of it overlaps with other public schools. But what I would say is that there are a lot of moving parts here. First of all, the office is interesting in itself because we oversee the entire UC system which is exciting and challenging at the same time. There are a lot of campuses and the system. The structure of the office consists of three different branches, research, healthcare, and education. We have people at the analyst level who report to the directors. I report to the Director of Research who then reports to the Vice President and that sort of executive office, who reports to the president of the university.

We’re like under that central area. I think the management has been really helpful. When I joined the team, we sort of restructure to have a way of working that is similar to being on Capitol Hill. If you were a staffer on the hill, you’d be working on a bunch of different issues. You would have someone to report to but you also have the independence to be working on those things. It was very clear. 

When I joined, my boss gave us a PowerPoint presentation saying, here’s the structure, here’s where you fit in, here are the things that you’re responsible for. It’s a nice mix because the counterpart who is the other analyst has a background in law. And her portfolio is consists of things that are commercialization, patents, and things like that are coming out of the system, which is interesting.

My position matched my scientific background. I follow a lot of things that are NIH and NSF, you know, animal research and things that are related to what I would have done in the past and I know how that works. There are a lot of things around open access. Now, you see a good job of responding to these things. I can only speak from my experience but I think it’s a good structure in that. Whenever something is happening, we write a statement. It’s a pretty clear process of who writes the first draft where it goes to the President and eventually they have a good structure in place to kind of move things along in the system and that’s been helpful with COVID as well.

I think a lot is going on. You can imagine there are a lot of different campuses and Research Topics to be affected by COVID. And keeping that all moving has been pretty smooth partly because the management has been effective. And we do part of our level, analysts level, but that goes to a lot of different groups as well. We interact with funding agencies to let them know what we’re doing. They tell us what they’re doing. We try to interact with each campus. This unique thing about this role is that we also have calls with government relations and people from each campus to make sure that we know what they’re doing and they know what happens here. I think, as far as I’m concerned, management has worked well. I feel it’s a good structure.

And that’s always good when you come into a position to know where you fit in, what your role is, what your limitations are, and what you’re supposed to do and not. I have a good relationship with my boss and he’s been supportive of my other interests related to advocacy, training, and workforce development. I’m doing some of that as well which fits into the research portfolio. I think the main thing to keep in mind is that I appreciate the work that I’m doing as well-matched with my background, and also just knowing where you fit in the whole system because it doesn’t a really big system. I’m impressed about how they’re kind of keeping track of what everybody’s doing.

Natalia 21:42 I can’t even imagine how complicated it must be, especially given that, you’re in the US, and I guess there are multiple levels and you have the local regulations. You have the federal law and it must be very difficult since you’re not born in the US. I have the question, do you now perceive yourself as an American? Or do you still feel that there is some European in you that will always stay and some part of your identity is European?

Adriana 22:30 I didn’t expect this question. I actually feel very American. I came here when I was 19. I got my whole education here at college. I’ve been here pretty long. My family has a history of having traveled and lived in the US for different parts of their life. So my grandparents lived here for 10 years. My uncle and aunt lived here for a few years. I’ve always been interested in US culture and wanted to come here to study. 

Where I come from, there’s not as much opportunity and research and science, so that was always attractive. It was a great opportunity to come here and study. I think I’ve become invested in the US culture, especially now like working, having gone through this transition of being in research and now being essentially like advocating for research, funding and training and all of this whole system.

That’s more motivating to be working in this space now that I’m able to try and advocate for what’s happening in the United States research system and how that compares across the world. And, you know, I’m lucky that I’ve learned English since third grade. That hasn’t been a barrier. But I don’t think there’s something about just coming from Europe to here. It’s an attractive endeavor to think about when you’re young and want to get your career going in your education. I feel much more American than anything else.

Natalia 24:19 Interesting. I feel I’ve been living in the Netherlands for almost 10 years and I still feel partially foolish. I think it’s hard for me to get rid of certain Polish features in my mentality. But that’s material for a whole different conversation. Nice to hear that you feel at home where you are. That’s great. Let’s get back a little bit to the times when you had to decide whether or not to transition to industry because we haven’t been talking about this yet. Could you tell us a little bit more about the feeling you had when you were in academia and your personal motivation? And told us a little bit about what was the deciding factor? What gave you this ultimate impulse to try something else?

Adriana 25:39 I guess one interesting thing to mention is that I grew up around science my whole life. My parents are both faculty. I’ve seen that lifestyle and I used to go to the lab when they were doing experiments. As a kid, I didn’t understand what they were doing. I also heard from them that they struggle with grant funding and this sort of thing. 

And I really enjoyed my time as a PhD student and I had a good experience. I had a good mentor. It’s a great place to be which is why I did a postdoc because I was still considering academia. But I was sort of starting to think about that benchwork I was doing. I didn’t feel like it was going to have any sort of the type of impact that I was looking for. It sort of felt like a very narrow idea of, okay, first of all, it’s gonna take a long time to publish something which is not really my personality.

I want quick and instant results which is why the policy is much better for that. But also, it didn’t feel like it was going to really make go beyond the lab. You publish to graduate. We have to publish, so we could graduate. And then, I was always looking for more and how is this going to help somebody else. When I started getting interested in science, I wanted to go to medical school to help people. 

I’ve always had this tendency to do something bigger with my talents. And I just published a paper, and then what happens, no one reads it. But you’re not seeing that impact on people who are actually going to benefit from what you’re doing. I think a lot of these things have been kind of my personal story of not being able to know what I wanted to do and realizing that there were no resources for people to do that.

That was very motivating for me to create something that was going to help the next generation. Being a faculty also requires a lot of skills that are not being taught. I think it’s just more broadly about how are we training the biomedical workforce? And what does that look like? If you want to be a faculty and what kind of things do you need to learn? If you want to be in policy, then what does the transition look like? 

There is no roadmap for that. I think that’s just fascinating and has a kind of a broader view to it. I guess that what you’re doing actually might impact more people. And policy is a very good career if you’re interested in something like that. You can have a broader impact. You would just throw your lab research. That’s been kind of the driving force in the involvement. And there are other nonprofits and all that.

Natalia 28:50 I totally resonate with this. For me, that was also the main reason and my research topic was extremely niche. It was one of these topics where literally 100 people around the world cannot see the paper or aren’t even interested in your paper. I always feel that there are no beneficiaries from my work because the probability that someone will actually take this work and build something useful in the clinics where it was pretty much zero from the start.

I can totally understand your point of view. I had exactly the same problem. I needed something where I can meet the beneficiary. We have a question from the audience. Let’s ask that question now. Rocky is asking, in the wake of the Corona crisis, is there a policy change happening at US universities regarding open access and open data?

Adriana 29:50 This is an interesting question. In the last few years, there have been more movements toward open access and all this stuff. I think the UC system has always been supportive of open access. Now, there’s more discussion of what that looks like. There are obviously also other groups that benefit from this or not. I think there’s always going to be this kind of dual way of looking at it. If you want to publish quickly, you want open access, but you also want a reputation and journals, that gives you all of this.

I’ve been involved in a few conversations in the system about I’m doing more open access than before which I think we’re doing and people are realizing that publishing on COVID has given this impression. We’re actually able to publish faster and that’s making an impact. I think this will be something to watch long-term and think about what was going to change the whole culture because we’ve shown that we can publish quickly because this is something that we want to do.

That means the culture could actually shift more towards this kind of publishing. It’s an interesting time to be working for UC because they were already pretty innovative before, but now this conversation about the whole system is going to change and what this COVID going to do to the research system. And open access is definitely part of that. There have definitely been a lot more discussions on this. I don’t know, if there’s a consensus other than like, we’ve shown that we can do it. We should probably continue with this for other topics as well.

Natalia 32:03 I follow Twitter these days and I can see that the last few months were not the worst for open science. There are a lot of new initiatives. It looks like that open science movement is going strong. Some are very happy to see that. And now I have a little bit different question for you. 

And the question is, how do your political views interfere with your day job? I’m asking because most scientists in the US are quite left-wing and we know what the situation is at the moment in the US. My question is, how do you keep diplomatic? How do you think that your political views caused you any tensions at work? How do you play around with it? And how does it look like?

Adriana 33:12 That’s an interesting question, especially from the research standpoint. For the most part, yeah, you have to be careful that what you’re advocating for. Because you believe in what you see if you’re writing that. Whereas when you’re representing yourself and other settings, you’re not representing UC. This is my opinion. This doesn’t represent a system or vice versa. I think that in terms of the research issues that we advocate for, there have been things that make a lot of sense like more open access and better funding. There are a lot of things about what’s going to happen with the grad students and postdocs in the system and they’re not able to do their work. So will they stay in science?

How will that affect everything? That’s been nice to see that there’s been more of a focus on young scientists now and how this is going to affect their careers which is pretty much what my whole journey has been about. It’s kind of exciting to actually see that being as part of my job now and being able to address that or advocate for them to get paid better more grants or just think about kind of the system overall. 

As far as the research system is concerned, I pretty much agree with UC advocates. I have an input into what that looks like and writings statements and things that are related to grad students and how we can help them advocate for them and assist them. And that’s been fun.

Natalia 35:12 All right. You’re very diplomatic actually from what you’re saying. I can imagine that you are also able to use this diplomacy in daily life and save yourself from trouble if you have to find your way between people. I can imagine that you’re really good at this. Guys, if you have questions, then you still have maybe a quarter-time to ask your questions. Take your chance. And my next question would be, so you find your way to do a transition from the bench to what you do right now. 

And it was not a straightforward transition. I’m sure that when you look back, you can easily identify certain things that you might do differently if you had the chance again. If you can reflect on that, and the things that you would like to tell yourself three or five years ago, what would you tell yourself? And what would be the advice you might give to researchers who are now thinking of going your way and actually going towards the world’s policy?

Adriana 36:43 That’s a big question. I think what I would have done was start exploring sooner because I didn’t really do it until six months into my postdoc. Because when I was in grad school, this was something I know how to do, I will stay in academia. And nowadays, there are a lot more grad students who are doing it early. In their second year or something like that, they are starting to think about what other things they can do and where to find those. I do informational interviews with them which I also enjoy. They’re basically calling to talk about science policy for an hour in your career. It’s interesting to see that there’s more awareness of this. I was not like that when I was a student. I was sort of like academia.

That’s what I want. I was very focused on that and then look elsewhere. And then I wouldn’t have done a postdoc if I knew what I wanted to do. Otherwise, I’m just one who would have done that straight after grad school, or maybe not even a PhD. That’s another story of whether you need a science PhD or not. It’s sort of a different way of thinking about research. When you’re in the lab, you’re very focused on your project. You’re really specialists in that. You’re an expert on everything. You’d know a little bit about a lot of things. That’s taking some skill and learning because my tendency is always to go very deep and understand the details. In scientific and academic training, you’re having a lot of time to think about something and quickly look into this issue, write a statement on the other issues.

It’s a fascinating role. You get to learn about a lot of things but you also have to be very quick and be comfortable with the fact that you won’t know everything about it. You just need to know enough to be able to write whatever your boss wants, or whatever the task is, and that’s also a skill to be able to figure out what is the minimum background that I need to actually write this I guess, evidence-based manner, but not necessarily getting too deep into it. It took a while to learn how to think about this. It’s a very broad perspective as opposed to the very detailed way that you’re trying as a scientist. What I would do is I would explore sooner and talk to people who are in positions that you’re interested in. I think it’s always good to grow your network.

That’s very helpful in policy as well when you’re looking for jobs. It’s interesting to hear what people are doing today and you never know when those people might help you down the road. It’s never too early to network. Do that as a grad student. I think that has been really helpful since I started. It’s not the most comfortable thing to just do a cold call to somebody and say, can I talk to you for 30 minutes, but people are happy to do that. And I’m happy to do it as well. If people want to chat more, I think it’s always nice to give back. People do that, once they’ve kind of gone through a transition. You can always learn and grow from your current position. I have this role doesn’t mean that this is the end. I think It’s the beginning of this. But I’m happy to talk to students who are interested in this and want transition.

Natalia 40:56 You might expect some follow-up questions later after this webinar. I have a question. Now, it’s a bit more question about the tribalism, so the culture in your current environment. And I’m curious because, in different environments, people network and build their personal impact very differently. There is just a different default way of doing it. And like in academia, in the last few years, Twitter became powerful. 

Today, scientists build a personal impact by building their network from Twitter and Twitter following, so that’s the default way of doing it. And you don’t see much movement and much activity from researchers on LinkedIn, for instance, most researchers have some profiles there, but they are not very active on LinkedIn. They rather treat this as a form of a business card, like you just create the profile, and leave it there, but in fact, you are active somewhere else? And how does it look in policy and in your environment? How do you create your network in your circles of influence?

Adriana 42:20 I guess that’s an open question. When I started, I didn’t know anything about policy. That combination of social media and LinkedIn was really good. I mentioned that I went to conferences where I had met people who are training students and postdocs. And conferences are helpful. When you start out to think about professional development sections of the meetings that you go to, Twitter was really good. 

There are a lot of people who are in policy on Twitter. You should follow groups and you can really see what’s happening in this space just by following the relevant groups as well. LinkedIn has been helpful. I think it’s been kind of a mix of along the way of saying that, you know, I would meet somebody at a meeting and then add them on LinkedIn, then send them a message saying thank you, you’re not going to get the phone call, then we’ll have a 30-minute phone call.

This is a system and you can kind of do these things as you grow. When you’re not working, move on and depending on where you are. These nonprofits have been really helpful to not only get in some leadership experience but also connect with people who are interested in the same topics because I said the policy is a very broad field. And so finding people who are going to support the cause that you’re interested in, I think is helpful. 

It’s kind of you are building your niche and you will kind of narrow down to the issues that you’re interested in. But knowing people at different levels is helpful. I guess federal agencies where we intersect with the National Science Foundation which was interested in similar issues that UC advocates for, have conversations with them. I think there are different networks in different groups, but also different levels.

There are things like, who does my boss know? Who do we know is a system that we want to talk to? There are different types of networking depending on where you are and what those people care about. There are a lot of meetings. Again, some of this is pretty regular throughout the year, but sometimes things come up. 

You know, when COVID happens, we kind of practice quickly and adapt everything to this. And you might end up having to build new networks because of whatever’s happening federally, then you have to reach out to this person or that person who’s doing that. I think that there is a difference between the kind of when you’re starting out as a student, and when you are professional in the space.

But again, I’m sort of leaning on the network that my boss has depending on what the issue is, who else is in this that space? And who would I need to know and connect to? Who is interested in that issue, or what organization is working on that. I think there are different levels that can be leveraged to an extent based on this role. If I email somebody and say, I work in the UC system, this is what I do. Can you connect me to this person? There’s a certain weight that comes with that, right. But then, I’m also kind of an entry-level person in the system. There’s a certain level of who do you connect with? Who does your boss connect with on a lot of levels?

Natalia 46:09 What you’re saying very much resembles how people in business connect. That’s my impression. I can see that in the business circles in the Netherlands at least, this is how they usually connect. It’s like literally very direct, you know, this is who I know, this is who you know, and how can we trade connections? And how can you get me to this sort of person? That’s very straightforward. That’s also maybe good advice to give to young researchers that you have to become a bit more explicit and don’t expect others to read your mind. Just tell them that I need this connection, give it to me. I really need this, could you do this favor for me and just put me through. This is how it works.

In this competitive field where you have a lot of people in one place, and you have to really find your way between people, you have to be more proactive and you have to be very explicit. There is nothing wrong with this. It’s good to say it loud that you have to stop thinking that because from the very start of early school education, we are told that we have to be modest, and our work speaks for us, we don’t have to use elbows and we just have to do a good job. But once you go out there to business or like big public institutions, then there’s a crowd of people and you have to be very clear about your intentions and not be intimidated to ask for help as well.

Adriana 47:52 I think there’s a certain level of you kind of have to learn how to sell yourself to these people and different groups that you’re not used to because you’ve only just talked to scientists. I mean that the big part of this transition is learning how to talk about your research to a policymaker or someone in the public or anyone else. It’s an interesting space to be in this position now because there’s a lot going on but COVID has made it both more interesting and more complicated to be an analyst at a university now.

Natalia 48:30 Let me ask you, when do we see you on the hill? You’re smiling. That’s a sign that there’s something on your mind and you have to tell us now.

Adriana 48:45 I guess the question is kind of what the next step is gonna be. I think being on the hill is a part of my job. And as a Government Relations Office, we are the connection between the researchers and the hill. We take them around to meetings and advocate for their topics of interest which is good for connections because you get to meet staffers on the hill. That’s something I’m considering as a potential direction in the future. Again, I’m always looking for more impact where that’s going to be. I’m sort of thinking of two things. Being on the Hill is obviously kind of where the action is, you know, where the bills are written and the votes are happening. I would love to be working there.

But it’s also a very hard space to get into if you don’t know people and it takes a while to build up that network. That is something I’m thinking of. The other side is kind of this address that I have in training and I’m thinking about, you know, I could work for NSF, for example, where you develop a program that could then affect all of the institutions in the US because it’s coming from a funding agency saying, here’s what we require, here’s what we want and hopefully would be implemented in different institutions. 

That’s also really attractive for me right now. I’m not like being in the system now. I think there’s a lot of influence here. But there could be more depending on what setting you’re in. In a funding agency, you have a lot of power being on the hill. It’s very impactful. It’s just a different type of impact.

Natalia 50:38 I’m curious because you always had a few different jobs. And I’m just curious if this is expected of you in this type of role that you’re on this career path where you’re expected to multitask and to build your portfolio of projects this way? Or is it your personal ambition?

Adriana 51:12 I guess a lot of it comes with a job. There’s so much variety that every day is different. There is a mix of your writing documents being on the hill. Sometimes, I’ll be in the office for a week. Sometimes, I’ll be on Hill for a whole week. There are certain elements of like you’re doing, you know, you’re writing, you’re in meetings, you’re learning how to network. You’re interacting with different groups. Interacting with a Hill staffer is different from talking to somebody in NSF. You have to know how to do those things. And I think it’s a very interesting position and you get to do a lot of things just by the virtue of what the role is.

Everything else is pretty much just my own motivation. But I’m sort of trying to infuse everything into this and seeing kind of what’s going to happen later. But all of my interests are related to kind of improving research and higher education, training, workforce development, and transition into policy. Now, I’m more in the space of being interested in how we teach trainees and how to transition into policy careers. I’m actually working on a course through one of the UC campuses. I do informational interviews. Some of it is sort of my personal interest and motivation to train students. Because I’ve gone through this transition.

I know it’s not easy and I’m like to be a resource. But then I’m also trying to kind of infuse that into my job. It’s kind of both ways because workforce development is a big part of the research. I’m excited to actually be able to work on that and get paid to work on what I want to do. But I also do it in my free time because it’s something that I just didn’t care about.

Natalia 53:15 Are you ever tired because you have these few jobs that you juggle. But I can see your activity online and you have a lot of public appearances. You give lectures and you really contribute a lot to the public space. I’m curious, are you ever tired? How do you manage this? Is it a sustainable lifestyle? And is it just the way you are or do you have some special ways of relaxing and recharging? Because that’s not easy.

Adriana 53:57 I’ve always been really driven by a bigger purpose. It’s hard for me to say no to things. I think what I’ve learned is how to divide up tasks depending on my time, and actually trying to come up with a system now to be more productive and keep track of all the tasks I have to do. This is something I’ve to learn some sort of system. I think it sort of comes down in terms of time management, like what can you do when you have like 15 minutes versus so much time to do something, right. Try to do your work. You’re doing these other things on the side and trying to figure out how long is going to take to do and how long is that?

But I will never say no to something that’s gonna help. If I’m invited to give a talk, I’ll do that. If somebody wants to talk about their career and they want to learn about policy, I’ll do that. It’s very motivating. It’s very hard for me not to do that because I really enjoy it. In my free time, I just take my dogs out for long walks. Now it’s very hot now, but that’s good and relaxing. I really don’t have a whole lot going on. But I try to do things that get me away from technology. I guess that’s what I would advise if you can go into nature or just play with your pets or walk outside, it’s good because otherwise social interactions are happening.

Natalia 55:59 I totally get your point. For me, the most relaxing thing is to go to a spa where there is no Wi-Fi. It’s actually this type of Spa where they don’t allow any electronic devices because otherwise, people start getting stressed. You’re not allowed to get into that place even with a phone or a laptop or anything like it. You have to leave all your electronics at home for five hours. When I first did, it was like disconnecting for half a day from everything electronic and I felt on a different planet.

Now, I feel this is absolutely compulsory for me not to get crazy to do this once a week or once every two weeks. Otherwise, I feel getting overwhelmed. I agree. Could you tell us a little bit about your incoming projects? Because I know that you’re preparing your own podcast. I would like to also know if you could spill some beans about what’s the scope of the podcasts? Or what will be the main topic and to who the podcast is dedicated? And where we can find it? How can we connect with you? As other projects may be coming up, what are your plans for the coming few months, and maybe in the coming year? How far are you actually planning? And how many more jobs are you planning to take? Just tell us the plans, please.

Adriana 57:47 The plans are evolving. I’m open to new things all the time. I guess sort of the process has been a lot of my initial projects have been very academic-related to basically publishing on mentoring, leadership, and other things with future research. A lot of those things that kind of wrapping up now and we’ve had events or data that we wanted to publish. That’s out now. 

We’re so at the Future of Research, specifically. We just get a lot of new board members. We have new projects coming up more around international postdocs. We have a project with anti-racism. We have a policy task force that I’m co-leading which is going to focus on trying to figure out what are the most important issues that affect early career researchers that we can advocate for and that’s going to look like both in terms of institutions, but also at the federal level. Is there a way for a nonprofit to actually get these issues forward to people in policy?

This is a new challenge to what is going to be and that’s one of the things I like is that there’s no direction and I can develop which I enjoyed. One of the podcasts that are going to be a new direction for the Journal of science, policy, and governance. As you said at the beginning, this is a vehicle that enables early career researchers to publish on different topics and policies. But we really haven’t sort of spotlighted them beyond that point, like the volume of published and so we’re trying to go beyond that and get their stories out there and their publications.

This is going to be a weekly podcast called disciple sound bites. It was meant to be pretty short. I’m just saying what is your publication? What was your motivation to publish? Where can people find you, etc? It’s a little bit going beyond the publication and it will be on YouTube and SoundCloud, hopefully, to release next week, if everything works out. We have different partners for specific issues, so this will be interesting, I’ll hopefully be able to disseminate their networks as well. 

This has been an interesting challenge too because I’ve never done a podcast before. Anything that’s new and old teaches me something new. But it’s been interesting. I didn’t realize how many things go behind the scenes before you can really see the podcast. There are a lot of elements in there. I’m getting involved with the STEM Advocacy Institutes. This is another. It’s basically a think tank that builds tools to connect science and society. And a lot of it is focused on underrepresented groups and also undergraduate students.

I’m trying to think about how we build the pipeline from early on which isn’t something I’m used to. I’ve never really done anything around undergraduate training. I think science policy can be a good bridge between academia and society and where that goes, and again, do need to train undergrads and policy, for example, I think that’s something that is very well known. It’s going to be another project on how can we make this transition easier. There are some tools we can build. Can we focus on students like undergrads, for example?

This is another new project that I started a couple of months ago and still brainstorming what that’s gonna be. I’m still continuing to be involved with all these different nonprofits and just kind of shifting a little bit to more policy-focused projects and thinking about how we can take the academic training into the policy space as opposed to being the very academic focus. I think that’s part of what kind of my transition has been, and I’m trying to kind of bring people along that but also learning how do you take this now into more societal change.

Natalia 1:02:31 I really admire that you want to help people and teach people how they can achieve what you achieved so far. And that’s great. I can imagine it must have involved a lot of self-management. And it’s something that you have to do for yourself. It’s like that you’re extremely proactive. And I think this is a key to success here. You are extremely driven. I really love that about you. It’s really exceptional. And I would like to thank you. Thank you very much for giving us all the insights today. It was an amazing amount of information.

Thank you so much, Adriana. I hope we see you on the hill. I think the reason why you’re not there yet is that you’re waiting for Joe to take the office. That’s the only reason. I think if you really wanted, you would be on the hill already. But I wish you all the best. And like one last thing is we will appreciate all the questions and take all the questions and will appreciate all the comments. And hopefully, see you soon. And on that note, thank you, everyone, for joining us, and have a nice evening. Thank you, Adriana.

Adriana 1:04:16 Thank you for having me. I’m happy to connect with you all on Twitter and LinkedIn and chat more about science policy.

Natalia 1:04:25 I’m looking forward to your podcast. I hope I will be informed on the very date of release. I’m very curious. Thank you so much Adriana and have a nice evening everyone.

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Please cite as:

Bielczyk, N. (2022, July 27th). E016 How To Hop From the Bench to Science Policy as a PhD? Adriana Bankston on Science Legislation? Retrieved from https://ontologyofvalue.com/career-development-strategies-e016-how-to-hop-from-the-bench-to-science-policy-as-a-phd-adriana-bankston-on-science-legislation/

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