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 Rachel Carr
77 Massachusetts Avenue Building 26-570 Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139 USA
Notes from a Year as a Congressional Science Fellow
Fellowships in Congress offer a unique and valuable opportunity to connect the acoustics community with federal policymakers.
By the time this issue of Acoustics Today is printed, the composition of the United States Congress, plus at least one other branch of the federal government, will have changed somewhat since my year as a Congressional Science Fellow. Nonetheless, one feature will likely be the same: few, if any, members of the US Senate or House of Representatives will have a professional background in acoustics. If this conjec- ture seems about as important as the statement that almost no players in Major League Baseball have such a background, consider that at least 19 bills introduced in the 2015-2016 term of Congress included the word “acoustic,” nested in topics as divergent as coral reef protection, law enforcement equipment, drought relief, and defense spending.
Perhaps a member of Congress need not be a scientific expert to decide wisely on these matters, just as a baseball player need not calculate the resonant frequencies of a bat to distinguish the crack of a potential home run from the thud of a likely ground ball (Adair, 2001). Still, amid the clamor in the halls of Congress, a scien- tifically fluent advisor can be a great aid in filtering a signal from noise. In turn, for a scientist or engineer, a stint with Congress can help teach the intricate language of policymaking. This is the theory behind Congressional Science Fellowships, first organized in 1973 by the American Association for the Advancement of Sci- ence (AAAS)1 and now sponsored by more than 30 partner societies, including the American Institute of Physics (AIP) and its member group, the Acoustical Society of America (ASA).2 With over 1,000 fellowship alumni working in government, academia, nonprofits, and industry (over 3,000 if alumni of AAAS fellowships in the executive and judicial branches of the US government are counted) and with scores of congressional offices vying for new fellows each year, it seems fair to say the theory is sound.
I was fortunate to be the AIP-ASA Congressional Science Fellow in 2015-2016, just after completing my PhD in high-energy physics. I arrived in Washington around the time Congress was debating the Iran nuclear deal and the Pope was visiting the Capitol to discuss, among other topics, the imperative for cleaner sources of energy. Both of these prospects had intrigued me as a graduate student, and I knew a little about the relevant science. What I knew barely at all and what I hoped to explore through the fellowship was the policy landscape surrounding these and other technically complex issues. I also wanted a closer look at how and why the government funds basic research. At the same time, I hoped that my skills could provide something beneficial to people making decisions about federal energy, sci- ence, and technology policy.
1 See the AAAS Web site on Science and Technology Policy Fellowships at 2
See the AIP Web site on AIP-ASA Congressional Science Fellowships at
 52 | Acoustics Today | Spring 2017
| volume 13, issue 1 ©2017 Acoustical Society of America. All rights reserved.

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