2011 PFIG Recipient Kelly Anderson
School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
Biomedical Engineering Major
2012 Graduation Year
Internship: National Science Foundation
Notes on the first week
I’m a biomedical engineer and this summer I’m working at the National Science Foundation (NSF). I’m working in the Office of the Director for Dr. Dedric Carter, Advisor for Strategic Initiatives. Next year I’ll be finishing up my 4th year and receiving my undergraduate degree. However, I’ll also be starting my Master in Public Policy through the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. Long term I want to find a place in policy where I can combine my background in biomedical engineering with a role in the policy making process.
My first day of work started off with riding the metro from my apartment out to Ballston. This was the only part of the day that didn’t leave me scared. I’d practiced the route the day before and knew exactly how to get to my building. It was everything that came after walking through the front doors that I couldn’t entirely plan for. Sure I’d done my homework, I talked to my mentor, looked through the agency’s website, and even tried to follow the news as I thought it would relate to my internship. When I arrived at work, I stopped at the security desk to get my temporary badge and rode my way up to the 12th floor, entirely occupied by the Director’s Office. I walked into the main office and was immediately greeted by several friendly faces asking me if I was the UVA Intern, Kelly. My boss wasn’t in the office yet, so they showed me around and got me set up at my desk.
Pretty soon I was sitting in a corner office meeting Dr. Carter for the first time. After brief pleasantries Dr. Carter immediately got into the details of what I’d be working on for the summer. I’ll have 2 main projects, one very focused on the core NSF mission of science development and grant funding. My other project focuses on the NSF strategic initiative of best business practices, in particular a focus on communication across the Foundation. NSF is broken into different directorates such as Engineering and Biological Sciences. The division into directorates often separates the Foundation, so it is important to determine new practices to improve agency wide communication.
My first project was a research task to look at an NSF funding program from the 1970’s. As little internet record was available I quickly became familiar with the NSF library and how to access old NSF reports. However, I found the best source of information to be my coworkers. They were able to point me in the direction of employees who worked at NSF at the time of the program. They also helped me located the task force report that reviewed both the successes and the failures of the program. I was able to use the information I gathered to draft a concise memo for my boss.
After this initial project my boss started to talk me through one of my summer long projects. NSF recently started using a new communication and ideation tool called IdeaShare. I’ll be creating a standard operating procedure document for the tool and the task force that administers it. I will also be creating a decision point document for how to deal with each incoming suggestion. During my first week I was focused on learning everything I could about the IdeaShare tool. From talking to the task force members to reading all of the suggestions thus far I tried to gain a full understanding of the tool so that I’ll be able to develop the protocols for the tool as the summer progresses.
I’m extremely excited about the projects that I’ll be working on this summer. I’m also excited about how much I feel like I’ll learn. I have the opportunity to listen to world class science and policy makers speakers. I get to interact with the senior management of NSF and get amazing insight into the operations of a federal agency. I hope to gain a better understanding of the policy and grant making processes as well as learn what background knowledge and education is helpful to work in this field.
I’m halfway through my internship now and I’ve really settled into the flow of work. I’ve made friends in my building, usually don’t get lost, and have a good handle on what my summer projects entail. I just finished my 5th week of work and can’t believe how quickly the time has flown.
I’ve been working on a full evaluation of the new internal communication and ideation tool. I’ve interviewed all of the key project participants and have drafted a standard operating procedure for the current protocol. I am now working with the team members to get input on this document and begin to develop recommendations for changes in the protocol. I am also working on a decision point document.
One of my other goals for the summer is to get better at speaking and networking. I’m used to being in a room full of UVA students and professors and comfortable speaking in that setting. Being in DC is different, everyone is there to network and connect but you also don’t have the ingrained connections and talking points that are commonalities at UVA. Whether it be stressing about exams, the weekend’s football game, or how great it is that we finally got a Dunkin Donuts on the Corner there’s always an easy way to start off a conversation. I’ve had to learn to walk up to strangers, introduce myself, and start a conversation. Often times there isn’t a great connection and you move on, but sometimes wonderful conversations develop.
A lunch that was only supposed to last an hour, turned into a two hour long conversation for me earlier this week. I ended up speaking with a former NSF intern who like me wanted a career in science policy. Rather than entering the work force after undergrad or a master’s degree he chose to stay in school and earn his PhD in a technical field, Biomedical Engineering. We spoke about the added credibility that he felt the PhD provided as a young person trying to make changes in the policy field. Many science policy makers don’t come from a science background and he argued that his advanced training made him instantly credible in situations he might not otherwise have been taken seriously as he just began his career. I’ve been planning on get a masters degree in public policy but remain unsure about whether work or additional school comes next. While I don’t know that I’ll take the same path of pursuing a PhD, hearing from someone with similar career goals and decisions to make was extremely helpful.
This next week I’ll be starting to give briefings to the different offices and directorates on the internal communications tools at NSF. I think this will be a great opportunity not only to share the work I’ve been doing this summer, and hopefully bolster use of the tool, but also to improve my comfort speaking on my work and research to a room of colleagues.
During our orientation session, one of the former interns at the National Science Foundation talked about how she developed firm goals for her time at NSF: some were personal development, some were work-oriented, and some were simply new experiences she wanted to have. As I think back about it, I’m pretty sure I’d heard this piece of advice over and over again - set a goal, and then find a way to make it happen - but for some reason, the way she framed it within her experience at NSF really inspired me to think about my own goals and aspirations. I started by trying to generate a list of things I wanted to accomplish this summer.
This list was a combination of several goals. First, I want a career working in science and technology policy. Last summer, I worked on the Hill and gained deeper insight into both the politics and processes that are key to policy and legislation development. However, for as much as I gained from this experience, it provided broad insight, rather than a background in particularly science-based issues. Working at a science agency this summer seemed to be the perfect time to better develop my understanding and knowledge of science issues. Goals to attend speaker events, Hill hearings, and learn the key texts of the field all fell under this. I then thought about what experiences I could gain only while at NSF. From that consideration came the goals to sit-in on a grant award panel and talk to someone who works directly in science and technology policy at NSF. Finally, I began to consider what skills I thought I needed to develop to be a successful player in science and technology policy. As an engineer, I’m taught both to dream of the future and work within the tight constraints of a design problem and budget. This background provides a great skill set, but does not directly teach communication. As a result, I wanted to work on my ability to speak, present, and write in a clear and concise manner. I used this list to structure much of the rest of my summer and remind myself of what opportunities I should be taking advantage of and seeking out.
I had the opportunity to work on the development of Innovation Corp, a translation research grant program that National Science Foundation launched during the last week of my internship. Seeing the program grow and develop as well as gain private support was an amazing experience. I also worked on an evaluation of an internal communication tool at NSF. The combination of these experiences taught me both the day-to-day functions of a major agency, and the particulars of a government research and funding program. I learned a lot about how I work, and what grabs my attention. I loved my summer at NSF and want to say thank you to the Parent’s Committee Internship Grant Program, as well as my mentors at NSF, Dedric Carter, Sherrie Green, and Steven Buhneing.As I finish writing this I’m looking forward to a wonderful weekend in our nation’s capital celebrating the 4th of July. From live bands, to cookouts, to fireworks I’m excited to take full advantage of the amazing city I’m living in this summer.