Upcoming Event: Staged Reading of Informed Consent


On April 23rd 2017, Sunday, campus organizations All Campus Theater and FOSEP are holding a staged reading of the play “Informed Consent” by Deborah Zoe Laufer. The play was inspired by a court case between a researcher at an Arizona university and a Native American tribe living at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

The researcher is a genetic anthropologist, interested in studying the genetic makeup of a Native American tribe that lives at the bottom of the grand canyon. However, in order to get blood samples from the tribe, she promises them that the samples will be used to help reduce the outbreak of diabetes that has come upon the tribe. When she traces their migratory patterns out of Asia, the results stand directly in conflict with the tribe’s origin story. There is much outrage and mistrust because she tricked the tribe, although she doesn’t see it as tricking them – all she did was follow where the data led her.

The staged reading will be followed by an intriguing discussion of science ethics. Although the researcher simply ran some tests on blood samples, was she justified in tricking the tribe to obtain those samples? Are you allowed to deceive people to pursue scientific knowledge? When science leads to a result that contradicts religious beliefs, what do you do? Do you choose to ignore the very science that explains how canyons were formed and why we don’t float on Earth?

Don’t miss this exciting event! We hope to see you at the Hodges Auditorium on Sunday at 6:30PM!

Q & A Policy Fellowship Series: Dr. Laura Pence

Laura Pence Headshot
Dr. Laura Pence is a Professor of Chemistry at the University of Hartford with expertise in environmental chemistry, inorganic chemistry, and chemical education.  She also currently serves on the Board of Directors of the American Chemical Society (ACS) representing New England and New York.  In 2012-2013, Dr. Pence spent a year as an ACS/American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Congressional Science Policy Fellow in the office of Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), where her policy portfolio featured natural resources, energy, and environmental issues, with a particular emphasis in the areas of water and forestry. Since then she has continued to explore the nexus of science and public policy. Dr. Pence is an outstanding educator, winning the University of Hartford’s Roy E. Larsen award for Excellence in Teaching in 2006 and ranking among the top 25 professors nationally in RateMyProfessor.com’s 2014 survey.  Prof. Pence received her B.S. in chemistry from Lebanon Valley College and her Ph.D. from Michigan State University. Subsequently, she was a National Institutes of Health Fellow at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  She was named a Fellow of the American Chemical Society in 2011 for her programming and leadership on environmental and sustainability issues.


When did you decide to become a fellow?

Unlike most Fellows who have typically recently completely Ph.D.’s or postdocs, I was a mid-career faculty member who wanted to take a sabbatical and have an adventure.  I started planning about a year before the application was due or about two years before the fellowship began.  My fellowship year was 2012-2013.

How did you prepare for applying for the fellowship?

About a year in advance, I started researching the program and the application.  I spoke to past Fellows about their experiences, and I asked for their advice.  At that point, I had already regularly taught our non-science majors chemistry class and done a professional writing project, so I had established that I could communicate effectively with the general public.  I applied to both the American Chemical Society Congressional Fellowship program and to the AAAS Executive Branch fellowship program.  My professional strategy has always been to spread my net as broadly as possible, and indeed, I was almost into the placement process in the AAAS fellowships when I accepted the ACS fellowship.

What’s a typical day/week like for you?

There really wasn’t a typical day or week because it depended on what was happening that day or week.  Some of my typical responsibilities included meeting with constituents, writing briefing memos and vote recommendations, and researching projects and legislation. I also monitored hearings, briefings, and actions on the floor on a daily basis.

What’s been the most gratifying part of being a fellow?

Overall, I enjoyed being part of the process of trying to make a better country for our citizens.  I loved the challenge of assimilating large quantities of knowledge rapidly on topics such as fracking, forestry, and water resources, and it was extremely gratifying to be part of a group of fellows and staff who worked hard and cared so much.  Being able to use my scientific training and talents to contribute to my office was also extremely rewarding.  Lastly and personally, I also prized my Congressional ID and having the ability to go nearly anywhere in the Capitol without any escort.  Sitting in the Senate gallery and watching the historic vote on the 2013 bipartisan immigration bill was particularly moving.

What’s been the biggest challenge as a fellow?

The learning curve was enormous, but it was exhilarating to drink from the fire hose.  Another challenge I had as a mid-career Fellow was that nearly all the staff of a Congressional office was significantly younger than I was.  I worked very hard to respect the superior experience of the people who were younger than I was and to be a good mentee.  Managing those dynamics were challenging for all of us, but we were extremely successful in my office.

What advice would you give to people who want to become fellows?

If you plan to go to Washington, don’t imagine that you are going to change the system or fix the system.  Fellows know a lot about science, but they need to accept that they know very little about the details of governing.  Respect the system and the people, and plan to contribute your expertise to help produce better decisions.  Check your ego at the door.  It’s not all about you.

Prepare to be flexible. You don’t bring whatever you explored for your dissertation; beta clamp proteins, click chemistry, and thermodynamics simply don’t come up. What you bring as a scientist is your analytical training, your communication and collaboration talents, your problem-solving skills, and your ability to bring a project to completion.  I worked on forestry, forest fires, water policy, and cybersecurity because those were the needs of my office and those were where the opportunities were.

What’s the most surprising thing you discovered since becoming a fellow?

The first time after my fellowship that I was in a meeting of people trying to implement a change and my reflex was to identify the key stakeholders I would need to get on board to sell the idea, I knew that my outlook on process had been changed permanently.  I’ve been surprised at how much my fellowship experience reshaped my perspective on how to get things done.  It also has resulted in more opportunities than I could ever have imagined.  I have a willingness to dive into projects that I wouldn’t have attacked before.  One example is sharing the stage with an economist, a theologian, and a bishop on a panel discussion of “Climate Change and the Papal Encyclical.”  I had a ball in spite of my initial sense of being out of my depth.

How does your scientific background help or hinder your duties?

While I was a Fellow, I found that I instinctively always attacked a question by collecting data or identifying the scientific foundation.  Through the other people in my office, I learned to layer on considerations of business and politics, which are equally important.  My scientific background always felt like an asset, but I felt it was essential to understand that it was not the only factor in deciding on a position, and often it was not the most important.

What’s it like living in DC?

Unlike most Fellows, I knew that I was in DC for only a year, and then I would return to my faculty job.  As a result, I was determined not to waste a single opportunity while I was there.  If my fellow Fellows had a slogan, it was, “I’m in!”  You didn’t have to get beyond, “Would anyone like to…” and there would be a chorus of, “I’m in!”

Would you like to go to the Botanical Garden to see the corpse flower bloom?  I’m in!

Would you like to go behind the scenes at the Smithsonian?  I’m in!

Would you like to go on a tour of the Library of Congress?  I’m in!

I also found that Fellows tend to organize creative outings, and if you organize something, you get invited to other things.  Overall, it was a chance of a lifetime to explore the nation’s capital in detail and over a whole year.

Top Six amazing experiences:

  1. Standing on the 2013 inauguration platform
  2. Watching the National Memorial Day concert rehearsal from the balcony of the Capitol Rotunda
  3. Seeing FDR’s hand-annotated “Day that will live in infamy” speech in a special visit to the National Archives
  4. Gem Vault in the Smithsonian Natural History Museum
  5. Dome Tour of the Capitol
  6. Reading reports in the main Reading Room of the Library of Congress

How has your experience as a fellow shaped your future goals?

As a faculty member returning from sabbatical, it took me about a year to start to find opportunities to leverage my fellowship experience.  Some of those opportunities have included:  teaching an honors seminar on science and public policy, working with the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering on a study committee of winter highway maintenance, returning to chair the American Chemical Society (ACS) Committee on Environmental Improvement, and being elected to the ACS Board of Directors.  I’m also on the team that is developing a state-level legislative science policy fellowship program in Connecticut.  My ongoing interests all have a strong policy flavor as a result of my fellowship year.

If you want to learn more about my own fellowship experience, I invite you to check out the blog that I wrote while I was on the Hill.  Look for the 2012-2013 posts at DrPence.wordpress.com

Fighting Apathy in Student Organizations

~By Humaira Taz

On Wednesday, Mar 22nd 2017, the UTK Campus Events Board held a seminar with T. J. Sullivan as the guest speaker. Sullivan is the author of the bestselling book titled “Motivating the Middle: Fighting Apathy in College Student Organizations”, and he travels all over the country delivering speeches that identify and tackle the problems faced by student organizations in colleges and universities. Cole Pawlaczyk, the Recruitment Officer of FOSEP, made sure to attend the event and came back enlightened. Here is what we learned from him.9781604946901-susanedits.indd

Every organization has three categories of people: the top one-third; the middle one-third; and the bottom one-third. The top one-third people are very active in terms of engagement and involvement. They like to have strong identities, validation of their efforts, and they seek success wherever they participate. They do not like apathy, or incomplete tasks, or looking bad in front of other people. The easiest way to spot them is that they are always busy and seek opportunity.

The middle one-third are the members who do not take any initiative, but answer when they are called upon, adding value to the organization. They might not be taking initiative due to difference in priorities and simply being very passive in their opinions. They also often juggle multiple activities simultaneously. They like balance and healthy relationships, while staying away from negativity and disorganization. They are usually in the background – like the backdrop of a play: important, adding value, but never catching the spotlight.

Finally, the bottom one-third are the people who love having fun, complaining, but also wants some respect. However, they dislike rules, obligations, and unfortunately quite often, the top one-third. Thus these people tend to be the ones causing drama and are often missing in action.

Therefore, it would seem like to keep the members of the organization from being apathetic, it’s important to motivate the middle one-third. However, the task is not that simple. The single biggest mistake made by the leaders in any organization is to assume that everyone will be motivated by the same things that motivate the leaders. That’s not necessarily true since in most occasions. To put bluntly, there might be members in the middle one-third group who are sincere, but are motivated by the goal of boosting their resumes.

The second big mistake is insufficient communication between the members of the organization. If the top one-third assumes that they are the ones having to do everything, and thus develop a negative attitude in the process, they are losing the interest of the middle one-third who were willing to help all along. The key would be to communicate to the middle one-third and extract from them the value that they bring to the organization instead of shooing them away with negativity.

So how do we keep all of these groups motivated and working as a cohesive team? Well, we lead, motivate and inspire them from where they are. We need to make sure the top one-third is always busy to take advantage of their affinity for success. For the middle one-third, we should definitely avoid making passive-aggressive statements as starters. We also need to understand that having mutual respect with them is important, and that they are passive so we probably should not be making decisions at the same meeting that topics are raised. Rather it would be wiser to give them some time. As for the bottom one-third, they really do cause more harm than good, so it’s best to leave them alone. But this shouldn’t make us belittle those bottom one-third: we are all bottom one-third somewhere.

In the end, we need to accept that the idea of having everyone in the group motivated and inspired at the same level is in fact a fantasy. Isn’t this some important life lesson? To learn better about improving your organization dynamics, I highly recommend reading Sullivan’s book!

**Special thanks to Cole for the notes from attending the event!




Meet the new officers!

FOSEP has some brand new officers in charge for the 2017 academic year. Let’s give them a warm welcome!

PRESIDENT: Marie Kirkegaard 

Marie is a graduate research assistant at the Bredesen Center. Her research interests are in actinide chemistry, specifically as it relates to challenges in nuclear security. She currently works with Brian Anderson at ORNL using theoretical and spectroscopic methods to probe the chemistry of uranyl fluorides. She is also a Nuclear Forensics Graduate Fellow with the Department of Homeland Security.

Marie grew up in the Chicago suburbs but moved to sunny Southern California to earn a B.S. in Chemical Physics from Harvey Mudd College. She is particularly interested in the intersection of science and policy. She has taken courses on nuclear security and nuclear weapons and is interested in foreign policy and counter-terrorism. On a more local scale, she is passionate about the communication of science and served as the former Vice President of FOSEP.


Guin is a Bredesen Center GRA, pursuing a Ph.D in Energy Science and Engineering with a Concentration in Surface Characterization Diagnostics and Plasma Material Interactions. Her research is performed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the Fusion and Materials for Nuclear Systems Division under the supervision of Ted Biewer. She completed her B. S. in Solar Earth and Planetary Sciences from Florida Institute of Technology.

Guin is also interested in energy policy and project management for future energy sources with a specific interest in nuclear and fusion related fields. She has been actively involved with FOSEP, and has won 3rd place in the Howard Baker Public Policy Challenge.


Holly is a Bredesen Center GRA with research interests lie in the utilization of plasma spectroscopy and a collisional radiative model (CRM) to measure electron temperature and density in a Oak Ridge National Laboratory linear plasma, with Ted Biewer as well. She earned her B. S. in Nuclear Engineering at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.

Holly is actively interested in policies regulating nuclear fission and fusion. She has worked on a law review related to licensing and regulation of fusion energy in the US.

TREASURER: Scott Satinover

Scott is pursuing his PhD in Energy Science and Engineering at the Bredesen Center. Under the supervision of Abhijeet Borole at ORNL, he is working on designing and characterizing bioelectrochemical reactors that use oil well produced water at ORNL. This waste water, which is otherwise disposed of underground, could be useful for producing electricity, hydrogen, or other novel compounds for a variety of additional energy applications. He hopes that this technology will help to mitigate the environmental impacts of waste water injection, which can run the risk of contaminating shallow/surface aquifers and may be linked to induced earth quakes.

Scott is originally from Oak Park, Illinois. He earned a combined Bachelors and Masters degree in Mechanical Engineering with a minor in Applied Mathematics from the University of Colorado at Boulder. After graduation he worked as a hydraulic fracturing engineer for Halliburton, based out of Hobbs, New Mexico, for three years. When Scott isn’t working at the lab or on campus, he can be found writing short stories and opinion pieces. He also volunteers on the weekends at Habitat for Humanity and FIRST Robotics to name a few.

COMMUNICATIONS: Joy Buongiorno and Humaira Taz

joyJoy is a third year PhD student in the microbiology program at UT with a background in zoology and geology. She studies microorganisms that live in sediments in Arctic fjords to understand how they will respond to a warming climate. She routinely couples genomic data and novel molecular techniques with environmental geochemical parameters to build a holistic understanding of her system.

She has served as president of Darwin Day at UT, is the social media coordinator for the Department of Microbiology, and is the coordinator for the Knoxville pod of the global organization 500 Women Scientists. She is very passionate about outreach within the community and promoting scientific literacy to enhance appreciation for fact-based policy.

tazHumaira is a fourth year PhD student at the Bredesen Center, working on multifunctional semiconductor oxides for energy related applications under the supervision of Ramki Kalyanaraman. She is originally from Dhaka, Bangladesh, and came to the US for her undergrad studies. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Applied Mathematical Sciences from Wesleyan College in Macon, GA.

Besides her research, Humaira is interested in science outreach and science writing. She has served as a judge in the South Appalachian Science and Engineering Fair for middle school students for two consecutive years, and currently volunteers at Writer Coach Communication to help middle school students with their writing assignments.

RECRUITMENT: Cole Pawlaczyk cole

Cole is an undergraduate student in the Haslam College of Business.  His interests are in healthcare administration and policy.  He is also involved with the Student Government Association: Government Affairs Committee, The UT Men’s Project, UT Investment Group, and College Republicans.  

Upcoming Events for Spring 2017

~By Humaira Taz

Welcome everyone for another activity-filled semester with your campus science policy group! Our goal this semester is not only to expand our presence on campus, but also to collaborate with different campus organizations and program events to demonstrate how omnipresent science policy is in our lives. Getting involved in science policy is a job exclusive to neither journalists/political science majors nor science majors. Science pervades in all aspects of our lives so it’s very important to get involved in the policies that govern the direction in which scientific research goes. This means we cannot simply leave the burden of this responsibility only to small percentage of the population. If we are to live the consequences of the policies made, we need to get involved ourselves. So without further delay, here is the list of upcoming activities FOSEP has planned for you this semester.

  1. Discussion with Senator Briggs; March 31st, 2017, afternoon. Image result for senator briggs tennesseeDr. Richard Briggs is a Republican member of the Tennessee State Senate, representing District 7, and was first elected to the chamber in 2014. He obtained his B. S. from Transylvania University in Lexington, KY, and went on to attend the University of Kentucky College of Medicine. Upon his graduation from there in 1978, he joined the military services and rose to the rank of a full Colonel. He is a vital figure in sponsoring bills influencing healthcare in Tennessee (a full list of bills he sponsored can be found here). Officers of FOSEP and two members of the FOSEP legislative team will meet with Senator Briggs to have an open discussion, with the objective of getting involved on a local level at policy-making.
  2. Beyond Academia: Environmental Edition; April 8th, 2017, 10AM-3PM; UT Panhellenic Building. altCareerThis event, in collaboration with GREBE, is a dive into all the career options one can go into with a science degree. There will be panelists from government agencies, NGOs, the CDC, ORNL, science policy organizations, science communicators, the Knoxville Zoo, and more! They will be available to answer your questions about what can you do with a science degree other than being in the academia, how can you prepare yourself ahead of time, what kind of networking skills might be vital starting even from your undergrad days….and pretty much any question you can come up with. As a fourth year grad student who is just now trying to figure out what steps to take for transitioning into a science writing career, I can affirm that this event will benefit undergrads and early stage grad students more than you might anticipate. So don’t miss out on this gem! Check out the event on our Facebook page for more details.
  3. Staged reading of “Informed Consent” by Deborah Zoe Laufer; April 23rd, 2017, 6:30PM-8:30PM; Hodges Library Auditorium.Image result for informed consent play Photo source: http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/59408/informed-consent

“Informed Consent” by Deborah Zoe Laufer is a play that was inspired by a court case between a Native American tribe and an Arizona University. It addresses issues such as science vs belief, and whether the public has a right to choose what they want to know, or what they would rather stay in the dark about. The play has received excellent reviews from well-known organizations such as the New York Times, Cleveland Examiner, Broad Street Review to name a few. The staged reading will be in collaboration with the campus organization All-Campus Theater, followed by a panel Q&A/discussion session. To say the least, this event is an entertaining way to think deeper about how science policy affects our lives. I wouldn’t miss it! Facebook event for this coming soon!

For now this is all folks, but we will surely have some more events going in the very-near future!


Q & A Policy Fellowship Series: Dr. Lida Beninson


Dr. Lida Beninson earned her Ph.D. in Integrative Physiology at the University of Colorado Boulder. While there she also earned a Graduate Certificate from the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research. In Washington she was a AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow at the National Science Foundation in the Division of Computer and Information Science and Engineering. She currently works at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine as a Program Officer on the Board of Higher Education and Workforce.

When did you decide to become a fellow? During a summer internship at the National Science Foundation, my mentor observed that I really enjoyed the nature of science policy work and networking with the people involved. When I told her how much I preferred my internship activities to my bench research activities, she told be about the AAAS fellowship. After reading up on it and seeing how many researchers transformed their careers as a result of the fellowship experience, I was sold.

How did you prepare for applying for the fellowship? One of the first things I did was find the fellowship scoring matrix and post it in my office cubicle. The main criteria for the fellowship is strong research, leadership, and communication skills. Another essential qualification for the fellowship is a demonstrated interest in science policy. As I continued my doctoral research, I carved out time to pursue policy coursework, communicate the importance of research funding to my local US representative, engage in my local FOSEP chapter, join an editorial board for a science policy journal, author a science policy blog, and apply for science policy awards in related research fields (for example, the American Institutes of Biological Sciences). The fellowship program is fiercely competitive, but I felt really prepared for my fellowship interviews and projects having engaged in so many policy activities prior to arriving in DC.

What’s a typical day/week like for you? Not a single day or moment is typical! I am involved in many different projects at different agencies with different levels of responsibility. What is essential to my work and to staying involved in many projects is networking. I usually go through some form of networking every day, and the larger and deeper you spread your network, the more likely you are to be invited to join cool projects. Many federal agencies are spread thin, but fellows can be very helpful in moving projects forward when leadership is busy.

What’s been the most gratifying part of being a fellow? There is a rapid velocity of learning, and I love it. It’s normal for a fellow to become a fast “surface” expert in a completely unrelated field. For example, my doctoral degree is in Integrative Physiology, but I work on computer science and big data initiatives here at the National Science Foundation. I still can’t program a line of code or work with petabytes of data, but I am familiar with big picture visions for these fields and their underlying research infrastructure.

What’s been the biggest challenge as a fellow? Finding the right mentor for your fellowship. Mentorship is key- if you don’t have a great person guiding you through the policy world, it’s easy to feel lost and underutilized. Take time to understand your prospective mentor’s leadership style and team dynamics. How will they help foster your professional advancement? What roles will you have on projects? How many people do you need to report to? How much time is available for professional development opportunities? Don’t be afraid to ask for specifics.

What advice would you give to people who want to become fellows?  Find the right mentor!

What’s the most surprising thing you discovered since become a fellow? Networking is key! You won’t get as much out of your fellowship if you don’t network. And don’t worry if you think you’re bad at it. Just keep at it, or take a professional development seminar to improve.

How does your scientific background help or hinder your duties? The part of my scientific training that’s most relevant is understanding what research life is like for students, post-docs, and faculty. When policies on science policy are on the table, bringing that perspective can be really valuable for the research community. Additionally, fellows bring focus to the need for evidence and data before making decisions. That is a very valuable perspective in the policy world.

What’s it like living in DC? It’s exciting and enriching! After you get over the shock from the enormous cost of living, you realize that there are many opportunities for enrichment and networking. There are always lectures, workshops, and seminars open to the public, and many other fun things are free, like the museums and festivals. There are even beautiful hiking trails nearby and several beaches to choose from.

How has your experience as a fellow shaped your future goals? I am currently a program officer at the National Academies of Sciences and my fellowship was crucial for this position. The knowledge that I gained about the policy process was important, but even more important were the connections I made through networking during the fellowship. By working on a variety of projects during the fellowship, I met people in different sectors of science policy and could engage in discussions that helped me shape my future goals and opened doors to new opportunities.

Upcoming Q & A Series: Spotlight on Policy Fellowships

img_4210With the recent election and the uncertainty about what science policy will look like under President Trump, now is the time for people passionate about science ethics and policy to look for ways to get involved. (Check out http://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/11/who-will-advise-trump-on-science/508055/)

Pursuing policy fellowships is one way to make sure facts and pressing issues regarding science get heard. As a way to encourage those intrigued by the idea, FOSEP at UT thought it is an appropriate time to dig deeper into just what a science-based policy fellowship looks like.

The best way? We decided to ask the fellows themselves!

Keep checking back to hear from people that have gotten involved. The first interview will be up by the end of the week!

“During a post-election session AAAS hosted on Nov. 15 a panel of experts urged scientists to be voices for medical research, innovation and evidence-based policy to assist the administration as it prepares to take control in January.” Anne Q. Hoy https://www.aaas.org/news/aaas-explores-science-policy-incoming-trump-administration