The interdisciplinary Neuroscience Training Program (NTP) drew C.P. Frost to the University of Wisconsin–Madison. The NTP’s joint graduate program with the La Follette School of Public Affairs – Neuroscience & Public Policy – sealed the deal.
“I have always viewed neuroscience as a window on human experience and behavior, and the joint program gives me an empirical toolkit to supplement the conclusions and implications of things like psychology and philosophy,” says Frost (MPA ’13). “The union of those two fields is not immediately obvious to many people.”
As co-chair of Catalysts for Science Policy (CaSP), Frost is helping others make that connection. The UW-Madison student organization, now in its third year, offers aspiring scientists opportunities to learn about science policy, how to participate in it, and whether it may interest them as a career.
“Broadly speaking, the more you know about the neurobiology of learning and memory and about psychological development in kids, the better education system you can build,” Frost says. “The more you know about the biological basis of antisocial and impulsive behavior, the better criminal justice system you can build.”
Although he’s a graduate student in neuroscience, Frost says CaSP provides opportunities for a wide range of students and researchers.
“This is not a scientist-only group by any stretch of the imagination,” he says. “Part of the reason why we focus on science graduate students is that they already are relatively committed to a career that somehow involves science, and they’re in a program that historically isn’t necessarily educating them about where else that could be used.”
For undergraduate students, Frost says, CaSP is more of a learning experience rather than a professional development experience.
To fulfill its goal of educating students about science policy, CaSP offers career panels, skills workshops, movie viewings and other activities on relevant topics. It also hosts public seminars where graduate students can learn about careers and jobs in government, private companies, and nonprofit organizations.
For example, La Follette School Professor David Weimer gave a presentation about writing a policy memo. “That’s one of the first skills a La Follette student learns, but it is totally foreign to a science grad student,” says Frost, who expects to receive his doctorate in neuroscience in 2017.
Other presenters have included Angie Dickens, an air policy analyst for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and Dipesh Navsaria, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health and an expert on early literacy in children, child health advocacy, public health, and medical education.
“Most of the folks we’ve had have been people who work in adjacent fields or started out in science and then gravitated toward policy,” Frost says. “Dipesh is a great example of someone who can be a committed academic but still maintain his advocacy hat.”
This year, La Follette School Associate Director Hilary Shager (MPA, PhD) is scheduled to speak about program evaluation, which offers a common language that scientists can use to talk with policymakers, Frost says. “If you work for the National Institutes of Health and you need to determine which grants are meeting their targets and which aren’t, that’s essentially program evaluation.”
These and other activities help CaSP members understand the different types of science policy. “There’s science for policy where scientists provide evidence that guides policy making,” Frost explains. “And there’s policy for science, where policymakers shape and support the research enterprise.”