The Science Policy Exchange embodies the transformative, critical, and expert 'boundary spanning' skill to connect people and science for real solutions to today’s challenges."
My Science Policy Story
I was in Antarctica when I first understood the importance, value, and impact of professionally connecting science and policy.
A young PhD student, I was diligently studying the soil ecosystems of the Antarctic Dry Valleys when our field team was visited by a delegation of U.S. senators: six men and women from the Senate Appropriations Committee. I learned quickly that their visit was not simply to hear about the science of the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP) but, importantly, to pass policy judgment as to whether the science being done by USAP, and therefore by our field team, was truly worth U.S. taxpayer support.
I remember growing concerned when, despite our best efforts, the senate delegation was paying little attention to our scientific presentations of carbon dioxide levels, soil structure, and salinity profiles.
That was when a National Science Foundation science policy administrator stood up on a rock, asked for the senators’ attention, and began to talk with them in what seemed a completely different language to me at the time: she spoke about how U.S. research investments were connected to economic development, how rigorous checks and balances ensured quality control on science funding, and how the work being done in Antarctica was an analog – far less expensive than a space mission - for finding potential life on Mars.
As she finished her speech, the shift in the senators’ energy level and their growing interest in the importance of our Antarctic work was obvious. She had simply, and strategically, taken the time to connect the senators’ diverse national policy interests to the focused science we were doing in the field. My field team spent the rest of the day with the senators, who were now fully engaged with our work.
The Science Policy Exchange embodies this same transformative, critical, and expert 'boundary spanning' skill to the advancement of environmental science and policy, bringing 'ideas to impact,' and connecting people and science for real solutions to today’s challenges. I am honored to serve on its Governing Council and believe deeply in its mission and its ability to inform, and transform, policy through with our best science.
Melody Brown Burkins is the Associate Director for Programs and Research in the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding and Adjunct Professor in the Environmental Studies Program at Dartmouth College.
She earned a B.S. in geology at Yale University and both her M.S. and Ph.D. at Dartmouth College, focusing her doctoral studies in earth and ecosystem studies of the Antarctic Dry Valleys.
With over twenty years of experience in both academia and government, Dr. Burkins is an advocate for policy-engaged scholarship across disciplines, international education and partnerships, creating new opportunities for academics and professionals in science policy and diplomacy, and the support of global initiatives investing in gender equity, earth systems sustainability, and civic leadership.
She serves as Chair of the US National Committee to the International Union of Geological Sciences, and is a member of the Board on International Scientific Organizations of the National Academies.