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The American Association for the Advancement of Sciences’ (AAAS) newest class of science and technology policy fellows includes three University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine researchers looking to use their expertise to make a societal difference.
Stephanie Mutchler, Amelia Stephens and R. Anne Stetler will learn the ins and outs of policymaking while sharing their scientific knowledge during yearlong assignments at federal government agencies. Since its establishment in 1973, the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowship program has supported about 4,000 scientists and engineers working to improve evidence-based public policy.
Mutchler, a PhD postdoc in the Renal-Electrolyte Division of the Department of Medicine, will be placed at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases’ Office of Scientific Program and Policy Analysis (OSPPA).
“I have always had an interest in policy, but, like a lot of scientists, COVID was what made me take a little more action,” Mutchler said. She said she is looking forward to working to restore trust in scientific institutions by advancing scientific literacy and evidence-based decision-making.
Her research at Pitt, in Thomas Kleyman’s lab, has focused on how hormone signaling and diet can affect kidney function. By studying ways to reduce kidney injury from disease and lifestyle, she hopes to help prevent people from advancing to chronic kidney disease and ultimately kidney failure.
Stephens, a PhD postdoc in microbiology and molecular genetics in Anthony Richardson’s lab, will work in the Office of Advanced Manufacturing at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
Her PhD work with Richardson focused on the intersection of bacterial genetics, virulence, and metabolism in Staphylococcus aureus. She expects the fellowship will allow her to see the impact of real-world technologies, a connection she sometimes felt was missing in her bench research.
“I knew that I wanted to be able to work on something going forward that I could really feel proud of its impact on human health or society,” she said. After connecting with Pitt alumni who were past AAAS STPF fellows and now work in government, she felt encouraged to follow the same path.
Stetler, a PhD assistant professor of neurology who studies the mechanisms underlying stroke pathogenesis, will spend her fellowship at the National Science Foundation’s new Directorate for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships (TIP). TIP works across NSF’s directorates with industry and nonprofit partners to accelerate or grow the basic sciences into translation. Their mission appeals to Stetler’s feeling of urgency in sharing the greatly expanded knowledge about strokes.
Stetler said first considered applying to the fellowship 17 years ago as a postdoc but that the experience and knowledge she’s gained since has only increased her appreciation for the importance policy plays in shaping research communities.
Mutchler, Stephens and Stetler join a class of more than 250 fellows in the program’s 2023-24 cohort.