Laying a path to policy

CBS alumna Katherine Himes hopes to inspire students to explore the possibilities at the intersection of science and policy.
March 24, 2020

Despite seeing few examples of careers to pursue outside of academia, healthcare or industry while in graduate school, Katherine Himes (B.S. Neuroscience, ’99; Ph.D. Neuroscience, ’07) decided to forge her own path.

“We really didn’t have people talking about science policy when I was a graduate student,” she says. “There was not an understanding that you can do science policy at many different levels of government or that science policy fellowship programs existed. I feel really fortunate that I found it organically.”

After completing her Ph.D. and serving in the University of Minnesota’s Provost’s office, Himes became an American Association for the Advancement of Science Science & Technology Policy Fellow with the U.S. Agency for International Development in Washington, D.C., and later, overseas in Central Asia. She led international research programs, advised on science policy and developed U.S. water projects. She now serves as the director of the McClure Center for Public Policy Research at the University of Idaho.

“I get bored easily and don’t like to do the same thing repeatedly. That’s the fun thing with policy,” she says. “There’s always something new, whether it’s working with different groups on reforms or a change in government policy, there seems to always be a curveball thrown in this field. Nothing stays static and I think that’s really exciting.”

In an effort to encourage future biologists to see themselves in this space of biology and policy, Himes helped fund and launch the Science and Public Policy Fund at CBS last fall. Through this effort, students will have access to financial support to pursue unpaid internships in public policy.

“One of our aspirations with this program is for undergraduate students to understand what’s possible, how they get there, and the value in getting that terminal degree,” says Himes. “Because you can do so much and add tremendous value whether it’s science policy or science diplomacy.”

While not traditional policymakers, Himes knows that scientists’ training and mindsets gives them unique and valuable perspectives when it comes to enacting effective legislation and policy.

“As a scientist, you know how to gather information, you know what counts as research and what counts as fluff,” she says. “You know how to connect evidence with decision making. I think that perspective is appreciated and valued.” —Lance Janssen