Rachel Owen is currently a doctoral candidate at Mizzou studying Soil Science. Her primary research project relates to how wetlands respond to climate change. However, her passions and extracurricular interests extend far beyond the world of scientific research. Rachel co-founded and is currently co-director of the Missouri Science & Technology Policy (MOST) Fellows program here at the University of Missouri. This program is meant to “connect scientists to the people making decisions in Jefferson City or Washington D.C […] where [policy] decisions are being made,” Rachel explained. The fellows program hosts trainings and workshops on things like how a bill is passed, how decisions on policy are made, and how government processes operate. This helps scientists become more familiar with political jargon and processes that will help them engage in meaningful interactions with policy makers.

Owen was first introduced to the political side of science when she was invited to attend a congressional visit day held in Washington D.C. This gave students in Soil Science a chance to talk with legislators and learn about policy. She mentions how federal grant dollars are awarded based on criteria that policy makers in Washington D.C decide is “worthy” of funding. Thus, Rachel sought to utilize her skills as a scientist and communicator to help facilitate connections between legislators and scientific information. She also notes that she was drawn to how “fast-paced” the policy world was compared to the world of scientific research. Rachel hopes that the MOST fellows program will help deepen legislators’ understanding of scientific information.

“Simply increasing the number of scientists who are there to speak with legislators or their staff, I think, is what helps in making sure they are able to consider all different sides of an issue,” Rachel said.  She continued by saying that in the legislative world, the way research needs to be communicated is different than the way scientists are familiar with. She explains that scientists need to put more focus on the outcomes of their research and their possible solutions to issues rather than the justification behind their study when speaking to legislators. The MOST fellows are prepared by learning to “translate” scientific research into a more useful format for legislators, which could lead to more informed policy decisions.

Rachel has also engaged in other scientific outreach opportunities such as Science on Wheels and Skype a Scientist where she engages the public with her research and her experiences as a scientist. Rachel is planning to complete her Ph.D. in Soil Science and continue onto a career related to science policy.

Click here to learn more about the Missouri Science & Technology Fellows program: https://mostpolicyfellows.wordpress.com/