This certainly has been an exciting first week. I had been to Washington D.C. once before, but I didn’t get to see a lot of the sights around town. There are so many things to do and see that I am beginning to doubt that one summer is really enough.
On Monday, I kicked off my internship with a meeting with the other interns at the AIP headquarters for orientation. I got to meet Dr. John Mather, who is graciously funding my internship. It was very exciting to get to meet and talk with a Nobel Laureate, particularly one as approachable as Dr. Mather.
After that I traveled over to the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s minority office, which is where I will be spending the summer as an intern. The committee office is in the Ford House Office Building, which is down the street from the other House Buildings. We’re a little farther away from the capital, but this offers the advantage of having a good-sized office. Notwithstanding, the excitement on The Hill is everywhere, and it is fascinating to look at the political process up close and in person.
During the workday, I’ve been helping with preparation of committee hearing materials, and have been working on a few database projects for the committee. On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to sit in on two hearings, which were extremely fascinating. The first one was on FAA launch indemnification, which was about whether the government should insure space launches. Although this committee hearing was not very contentious, watching how the congressmen and witnesses phrased arguments, posed questions, and deflected the pointed remarks still fascinated me. I almost felt like I was watching a debate round.
The second hearing was very different from the first. The subject of the hearing was the EPA’s effect on jobs and cost-benefit analysis, and this hearing was highly contentious and somewhat confusing. The witnesses voiced a number of broad complaints about the EPA, but there were no members of the EPA there to answer the concerns, and there was very little constructive discussion from the bench. I suppose this is to be expected from partisan politics occasionally.
Nonetheless, it has been a great week. I am learning a great deal about how public policy is created, and am finding that understanding scientific matters is key to a great deal of legislation. I don’t know yet whether I want to do this as a living, but the environment on the Capitol fascinates me. I look forward to an exciting, educational, and enjoyable summer.
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I have managed to keep myself busy this second week. Over the weekend, I finally got to see the monuments on the mall, and I visited a few of the Smithsonians. (My goal is to make it through all of them by the end of the summer.) On Sunday night, all the SPS interns got together and started the tradition of cooking and eating dinner together on Sunday. We finished the evening off with a few episodes of MacGyver.
The House of Representatives is on recess this week, so the office was a little more relaxed compared to last week (which means I don’t have to wear a suit and tie to work). Still, there is plenty to do—we have several hearings coming up over the next two weeks, and we’ve been preparing the materials and gathering witnesses. On the side, I’ve still been working on a database project for the committee, which is due this weekend.
On Wednesday, Jon introduced me to two congress staffers from AAAS who had both gotten Ph.D.’s in Physics and Astronomy, but later got into politics and are now both working on the hill. It was extremely interesting to listen to their stories of how they went from physics into public policy, and it was particularly fascinating how being a scientist gives them a different perspective on legislation. I hope I get to talk to them more before the summer is out.
That evening, six of the SPS interns and I went out to eat in Chinatown (though, oddly enough, we didn’t eat at a Chinese restaurant). There were so many lights that it almost felt like day at 10:00 at night. I also got to see the White House for the first time on the way back to the apartment.
On Thursday, the other intern at the office and I watched a Senate hearing on China and clean energy, and wrote up a memo summarizing the hearing. This was fun, because it was the first assignment we were given to do on our own that the entire committee would see.
I tried to go watch the China hearing in person, but the room was full when I got there. I mention this, because I had an adventure trying to get to the Senate office buildings by going through the tunnels in the capitol. (Makes sense, right? The House buildings are on one side of the capitol, and the senate buildings are on the other side. So just walk under the capitol building.) It turns out that the basement levels of the capitol building are like a giant, multi-level labyrinth. I got completely disoriented and lost after three minutes, and spent fifteen minutes trying to find my way back outside. On the way back, it was even worse. This time, I couldn’t even find an exit. After wandering around for some twenty minutes, constantly peering around corners for minotaurs, I discovered that I had somehow ended up in a tunnel to the Cannon House building (two blocks away from where I was trying to get). I at least knew where I was, so I found my way back to my building. The moral of the story: part of the reason why they have those signs all over the Capitol Building saying, “Authorized personnel only” is because if you don’t know your way around, you will never find your way back out!
Anyway, that afternoon, I went to a special Intern lecture given by James Jeffrey, who is the US Ambassador to Iraq. His presentation was fantastic. He started with a brief history of Europe, and traced the current philosophies of US foreign policy all the way back to their foundations in the Enlightenment. After that, he talked about some very intriguing examples of practical diplomacy, and what life is like as an American ambassador to the Middle East.
That pretty well sums up my week. Next week, Congress will be back in session, so I may or may not have as much time to go to meetings and to attend lectures. But I’m keeping my fingers crossed. There is an incredible amount of action all the time at the Capitol, and I plan on getting in on as much as I can.
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Week number three has gone by fast. The weekend and the workweek were both very busy.
Last weekend, Matthew and I had dinner with a fellow Grove City alumnus on Friday, and spent a wonderful evening discussing international economics and the laws of finance. On Saturday, a group of the SPS interns and I went to the Smithsonian zoo for the afternoon, and observed all sorts of animals that I never knew existed. The highlight of the zoo trip was definitely watching the giant pacific octopus getting fed. After the zoo, we all stopped by an Eritrean restaurant for some delicious East African cuisine. There is a myriad of ethnic restaurants in D.C. and I am mildly disappointed that I don’t have the time (or money) to try all the varieties.
On Sunday, Matthew and I went up to Baltimore with my friend Joel for the air show commemorating the 200th anniversary of the siege of Fort McHenry. The Blue Angels were amazing, and it was great to relax at the park all afternoon. After that, we went down to the harbor to see the tall-mast sailing ships docked there for the celebration, and made it just in time to see one set sail.
Back at the committee office, we have had a very busy week. There were four hearings that we had to prepare for, which meant that boatloads of documents had to be written and printed, binders had to be filled, and representatives had to be contacted. My jobs were mostly preparing the binders, calling the representatives, and then attending the hearings to take pictures. (If you want to see a sample of my amazing photography skills, see the picture at the top of this page :http://democrats.science.house.gov/press-release/subcommittee-discusses-technology-transfer-universities.) The two committee hearings I attended this week were both on Research and Development, which I found to be fascinating (mostly because a lot of the hearing was about physics). The testimonies were fascinating—but it was equally interesting to watch the representatives react to the descriptions of high-level research. Most of them said something like, “I don’t understand what you just said, but it sounds impressive.”
I also discovered that the expert witnesses are very happy to talk to people after their hearing is over. For example, after Thursday’s R&D hearing, I had a conversation about electron microscopy with the chief scientist for GE's Chemistry/Materials Characterization division. In addition, on Wednesday I had the chance to meet Craig Mello, who won the Nobel Prize in medicine in 2006. He was on Capitol Hill giving a talk on RNA gene therapy, and I went up afterword and asked him a few questions about his research. There are important people on The Hill all the time, and with a little initiative, you can meet some incredible individuals.
Now that three weeks have passed, I am getting to know many of the staff in my office much better. This means two things: 1) I chat more often with the people around me, and 2) staff members are giving me more jobs to do. Wednesday, I got to write up a summary of a hearing on commercial space flight. Thursday, I was asked to research two pieces of legislation from the 1980’s. I’m beginning to feel much more productive, and I hope this trend continues.
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This week has been at exciting and slow at the same time. It has been exciting because of the neat things there are to do around the city, but it has been slow because there has not been much to do at the office.
Last weekend, I went with a bunch of the other interns to the Air and Space museum on Saturday. This is probably my favorite Smithsonian museum I’ve seen thus far, mostly because I am inexplicably fascinated with spacecraft. On Sunday, I went to an English pub to watch the Euro-cup quarterfinals of England versus Italy. I’m not really that into soccer, but it was a lot of fun because everybody around was really into the game.
Monday morning, I had my capitol tour training session, so now I am officially certified to lead tours of the Capitol building. It is not likely that I will be giving many tours, since nobody really calls the Science Committee if they want a tour; nonetheless, it was a great experience getting to learn a bunch of interesting things about the capitol building itself. The structure has a very interesting history.
Aside from the tour training session, it was a slow week in the office. All Monday afternoon and Tuesday there was not much for me to do, because there was not much the committee was working on. Wednesday, I attended a hearing on federal funding of research facilities, and had a short conversation with an administrator from the University of Arizona concerning fundamental science research. On Thursday, the committee was supposed to have a hearing with Lisa Jackson on the EPA’s scientific methods—but the Republican staff canceled the hearing for some reason. Thursday was an exciting day anyway, with the Supreme Court ruling on the Healthcare Bill, and the contempt vote for Eric Holder. When the Supreme Court ruling was announced, the staff in the office started celebrating and nearly dancing in the hallways for about half-an-hour. Despite the excitement, our office was left with virtually nothing to do. I tried to go around knocking on people’s doors offering to help them with anything, but four out of five times, they did not have anything for me.
Friday was a welcome change of pace, as all the interns visited the ACP building up in College Park. It was really neat to see where the other interns have been working, and to talk to the employees there. Particularly interesting was the Niels Bohr library, where they had archives of every imaginable physics resource, and loads of original source documents. After having dinner with the SPS board, we all went out to see the Music Man, which was one of the best stage performances I have ever seen.
It is hard to believe that four weeks have gone by already—I still feel like I’m getting my feet wet on the Hill.
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It is hard to believe that this summer is halfway over! These first five weeks have gone by extremely quickly.
This past week was a little slow in the office, it being Independence Day and all. House was in recess, Wednesday was a federal holiday, and the committee had very little to do to begin with. I spent most of this week researching and writing up reports for committee staff, which feels like much more serious work than what I've been doing. Monday, I wrote a report on quantifying the benefits of NASA technology used in the private sector, and I spent Tuesday and Thursday researching the damages from injection well disposal of hazardous chemicals. I feel like my research skills from policy debate are coming in handy, and I am thoroughly enjoying this kind of work.
Outside the office, I have had a much busier week. Last Saturday, Thomas, Matthew, and I went to the National Art Gallery. They have an astounding collection of art from every part of the globe, and we only got to see a small part of the museum. I definitely plan on returning before the summer is over. On Sunday, Matthew, Melissa, and I went to see the new Pixar movie Brave, and then got to enjoy some delicious Indian food cooked by Shouvik.
On Wednesday, we all were off work and got to celebrate America’s independence by going down to the Fourth of July festivities on the National Mall. In the morning, Matthew and I watched an hour and a half of the parade. This was very fun, but the longest parade I have ever seen. After a while, all of the marching bands started sounding the same, and we left to grab some lunch. In the afternoon, most of the SPS interns and I went down together to the Capitol lawn to grab a seat for the concert and fireworks. It was incredibly hot and humid, but it was very relaxing to lie on the lawn in the afternoon. The concert was a lot of fun as well: most of the bands I had never heard of, but we got to hear the National Symphony Orchestra play under the direction of John Williams, and the fireworks were amazing. (To boot, we watched the fireworks through diffraction-grating glasses, which significantly enhanced the experience.)
I should probably make mention that there was a huge storm Friday night, and over half the area lost power. Fortunately, our apartment never lost its electricity, and we were able to keep the air conditioning running. But several members of my office have had their power off for five days or more. It is a very good thing we had electricity and A/C, because this has been the hottest week yet.
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This week, the committee still did not have much to do. I suppose that is just what happens in the summer before an election, and the fact that I work in the minority office does not help. Nonetheless, I am still keeping myself busy.
Last Friday, I went with Melissa and Meredith to a Nationals game against the Rockies with a bunch of people from the American Geosciences Institute. The Nationals lost, but it was still fun to go down to the ol’ ballpark, and the geologists were very friendly. On Saturday, a bunch of us interns went to the museum of modern art, and afterwards to the National Archives. Some of the modern art was really cool and were like giant optical illusions, other pieces were weird, and some I wouldn’t be able to distinguish from junk. The Archives, on the other hand, was well worth the trip. We didn’t have time to stay and look at much of the museum section, but it was a neat experience to see the original declaration and constitution. On Sunday, Matthew and I had lunch and dinner with some Grove City College friends. It was good to catch up with people and relax for an afternoon.
In the office, things were pretty slow this week. We only had one hearing this week, which did not require much work from us interns. So in order to find something to fill my time with, I went up to the ACP building on Tuesday and talked to some of the editors of Physics Today about possibly writing an article for them. They seemed very welcoming, and I have spent the last several days brainstorming what I could write about. I am very excited to get this opportunity, and I am hoping they will let me publish something on the philosophy of science. In any event, I now have something to work on at my desk during the day.
Incidentally, while researching for my paper, I went up to the Library of Congress to do a little research on Thursday. I got a public library card, and spent about an hour working in the main reading room. If I worked closer to that building, I would go there to work every day—you just feel smarter when you walk in.
Finally, I probably should mention that some of us went down to the Kennedy Center on Tuesday, and watched a free concert by members of the Kennedy Center Opera Orchestra. They played a Beethoven sonata and a Schubert sonata, and it was fantastic. Apparently, they have free concerts every evening at 6:00, and I wish I was able to make more of them.
Next week I will probably get deeper into writing my article for Physics Today (after at least figuring out what I want to write about). In the meantime, I will continue to do research projects for the committee, and enjoy the sights of Washington D.C.
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This week has gone by fairly quickly. I was working on several projects for the committee, and my family was in town this week so the time went by fast.
Last Saturday, Matthew, Thomas, and I went to Arlington National Cemetery. I had never been before, and it was a solemn place, but well worth the visit. We toured Robert E. Lee’s house, watched the changing of the guard at the grave of the Unknown Soldier, and then got lost trying to find our way back out. Later that day, we visited the Old Post Office tower, which offered spectacular views of the city. Incidentally, since the Washington Monument is still closed from the earthquake last year, the old post office is the highest public observation platform in the city.
On Monday, I researched the funding that sub-orbital space launch companies are getting from the NASA, and made up a document for the committee. Later that day, I received approval from the Physics Today editors to write my article on science and public perception. I am extremely excited about this, because I think I definitely have something worthwhile to say on the topic. Monday night, I went out with my family for Ethiopian food, and we wandered around Georgetown. Tuesday, I spent most of the day with my family around D.C. In the morning, I gave them a tour of the capitol building (and I remembered around 40% of the things that I wanted to say). After work, I went to the post office museum with them, took pictures in front of the White House, and then went out for Italian food. Wednesday (their last day here), we all went out to eat and then for a walk by the Potomac. It was really great to get to see my siblings again, and interact with people other than interns and professionals.
In the committee office, I spent most of the week doing odd research jobs for staffers, and preparing for a hearing on counterterrorism defense technology. The week was not particularly exciting, except for Thursday. On Thursday morning, there was a Future Space 2012 conference in the Dirksen building, but I had to skip out to attend the defense technology hearing from 10:00-12:00. After the hearing, I went back to the conference for the last few keynote speakers and the formal lunch. At the lunch, I talked with several executives from spaceflight corporations about their work, and I collected a bunch of business cards. Thursday evening, I went to the ACP building to a barbeque with a lot of the APS staff and John Mather and his wife. This was the last time I will get to see Dr. Mather, and I am very indebted to him for supporting my internship program. I did bounce a few of my ideas off of him for my paper for Physics Today, and he said he was very interested in seeing my final result.
We have a few more hearings next week, so I hope that there will be more to do. In the meantime, I will be working on my Physics Today article.
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This week was a very memorable one.
Last weekend, Matthew and I hung out with some fellow Grove City College students, and watched the Dark Knight Rises and toured the mall with them. Incidentally, we ate at a restaurant called Founding Farmers, and I had one of the best hamburgers I have ever eaten.
Over the weekend, I also wrote my article for Physics Today, and sent it in to the editors. They said they wanted some visuals, so I drew some cartoons to go with it as well. I still haven’t heard back on any changes they want to make, but it looks like they like the article!
Back at the office, things are picking up a little. We had two hearings this week, one on drought detection technology, and one on DOE electric vehicle programs. They were not bad hearings, but the DOE hearing was unfortunately filled with partisan bickering.
Aside from that, there were three very interesting things that happened this week:
1) I got to give a tour of the capitol to a father and son from Israel. I had to start from the beginning of U.S. political structures, but it was a fun tour. I was fascinated hearing them talk about their lives in Israel.
2) On Thursday, most of the SPS interns went to the Physics IQ event at the University of Maryland. Most of the event was looking at physical setups and trying to figure out what will happen when the system is changed. This was a ton of fun, and I learned a lot about physics that I didn’t know before.
3) On Friday, the SPS interns went to NIST. We got to see the hall of standards, underground laboratories, the world’s highest-resolution SEM (0.25 nm resolution!!), and a cutting from Newton’s apple tree. (The apples were under-ripe and really sour.) We also got to chat with a researcher who is working on developing a replacement for the silicon transistor. Everybody’s job is just to go figure stuff out, and there was no bottom line. This trip was amazing.
Next week is my last full week. It feels like this summer has gone by extremely fast. Fortunately, we’ve been keeping busy seeing all the sights of D.C. I don’t think we’ve missed too much.
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This was the last full week of my internship. This also happened to be the last week that the House of Representatives is in session before August recess, so things have begun to wind down in more ways than one.
Last Saturday, several of the other interns and I went to the Holocaust Museum in the afternoon. It was a sobering experience, but a very well done museum. I highly recommend it. After the museum, we went out for Burrito Brothers and ate some of the largest burritos I have ever seen.
From Sunday to Thursday, Matthew was in Philadelphia at a Physics Teachers conference, so I had my apartment all to myself for most of the week. However, I somehow still managed to meet up with some friends from Grove City on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.
At the office, I began wrapping up some projects I was still working on. I completed a report on Open Access research for one of the staffers, and reviewed a little more information on sub-orbital launch vehicles. On Wednesday, we had two hearings. The one I attended and took pictures for was on industry partnerships with universities for research. It was interesting, and fortunately not a very contentious topic. In the afternoon, we had another hearing on private sub-orbital spaceflight companies. This hearing was really cool; executives from five spaceflight companies came and testified about the exciting progress of their projects. After Wednesday, things quieted down quite a bit in the office. I think everybody, congressmen and staffers alike, is ready for recess to begin.
On Thursday, the other SPS interns and I were able to get a tour of the White House (courtesy of Jon). As it turns out, the tour was “self-guided,” so we got to wander through the formal rooms on the first floor at our leisure. This was incredibly cool; the architecture was ornate but not over-blown, and all the rooms had fascinating bits of history behind them.
I am writing this on Friday the 3rd, and it is my last full day in the office. But I’ll leave my reflections until next week. For now, I’ll be looking forward to an “intern-going-away-party” at the office, and a baseball game later tonight.
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This last week was a great week to wrap up the summer. Over the weekend, Matthew and I went out to Virginia and hung out at a friend's house. Then on Sunday, the other intern in my office and I went out to lunch with some people from my office. On Monday, I went into the office and cleaned up my desk, and said my goodbyes to all the great people I got to work with all summer. They told me they appreciated my work, especially compared to interns they've had in the past.
Monday afternoon, I went up to the ACP building and gave my practice presentation with the other interns. It went well, and I got a few comments on my powerpoint. On Tuesday, we all went up to ACP again, and gave our formal presentations to a very large audience. Afterword, we got to go to the Air and Space Museum up by Dulles airport. This was fantastic--still inferior to the Air Force Museum in Dayton--but they had an incredible collection of important and bizarre aircraft. Finally, for Tuesday dinner, we all went to Founding Farmers for some delicious food.
Wednesday, we had a short de-briefing session with the folks from SPS, and we thanked them for having this incredible opportunity. I rolled out on Wednesday afternoon, after saying goodbye to all the other interns. I'll miss living with everybody.
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Overall, the summer experience with SPS has been fantastic. I went in hoping to do science research for a congressional committee, but the internship ended up being so much more than that. The experiences from this internship changed my perspective on politics, and it may have changed even my career.
Just a few of the highlights of the summer were: getting to meet two Nobel-Laureate scientists, conversing with the top scientists and engineers in the spaceflight industry, giving tours of the capitol building, writing reports that congressmen would ultimately read, writing an article for Physics Today Online, and getting to sample the culture (and cuisine) of Washington D.C.
More important than the memories, however, were the lessons that I took away from the experience. First of all, I got to learn how public policy really works from the inside. Contrary to the media’s portrayal, politics is much more than just the congressmen on the floor of the House of Representatives. The real policies are hashed out in the offices of congressional staffers, in the committee hearings, and congressional briefings. The staff offices are critical to the operation of our government, and I had the privilege of being able to see how they work, and participate a small way.
Secondly, I dramatically improved my networking skills. Very important people come in and out of the capitol building all the time, and sometimes all it takes is a handshake to start a conversation. This led to a number of opportunities; most notable for me was just getting to meet these individuals, but I also have a stack of business cards and contacts to show for it. Most of the time, it was as simple as working up the courage to go up and introduce myself.
Thirdly, I got to learn about many of the important challenges our country faces. On the science committee, I got to work on topics related to NASA technologies, commercial spaceflight, hazardous chemical disposal, and open-access scientific publishing just to name a few. On top of this however, we frequently encountered perennial problems of the debt-crisis, partisanship, and other political “hot-button issues.” I walked away with a much better understanding of what the big policy challenges will be over the next few years.
Fourthly, I learned about why the scientist and the politician need to understand each other. Most of the problems our country faces have technical aspects, and scientific information will be key to solving them. Furthermore, the federal government is one of the largest sponsors of basic scientific research, so it is important that the scientist and politician can communicate on the same level. It is critical that politicians understand the strengths and weaknesses of the scientific process. Often times scientific research can yield valuable information, but it has its limitations. As a consequence, it is critical to have scientists who understand policy, as well as politicians who understand science.
Perhaps the most unexpected consequence of this internship is that I have gotten involved with writing. Towards the end of the summer, I wrote an article for Physics Today, and I thoroughly enjoyed composing it. Already, I am working on additional articles for other publications. In the near future, I still plan on getting a graduate degree in Physics, but I think I have discovered a knack for writing about fields beyond physics. For now, I plan on keeping close tabs on the political world, and doing some writing when I can. But no matter what I end up doing in the future, I will remember this internship as one of the most valuable experiences I have ever had.
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