Former White House Associate Director of Science leads science policy seminar

Jo Handelsman, PhD, with BSD students and postdocs after her lecture

On Tuesday, April 25, 2017, Jo Handelsman, PhD, came to the University of Chicago to lead a science policy seminar sponsored by the Postdoctoral Association Science Policy Committee. Kristy Hentchel, PhD, (Crosson lab) organized the event, and Cara Froyd, PhD (Adams lab) hosted Dr. Handelsman. Handelsman was appointed by former President Barack Obama as the Associate Director for Science at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) where she served for three years until January 2017.

During the lecture portion of the day, Handelsman spoke about her time in the Science Division of the OSTP and major initiatives she worked during her time there, including precision medicine, forensic science, and the 21st Century Cures Act.

While the OSTP's mission encompassed a wide range of issues, from climate change to technology and organ donation, the Science Division devoted some of its time to initiatives around basic science and STEM education, like the annual White House science fair. According to Handelsman, that day was President Obama’s favorite day of the year. While not inclusive of the totality of the Science Division's work, this focus increased the visibility of basic science and conveyed its importance to the public.

After the lecture, Handelsman met with a group of postdocs and graduate students to discuss her path to science policy and advice for aspiring science advocates.

Handelsman received her PhD at the University of Wisconsin - Madison in Molecular Biology and has authored over 100 papers, 30 editorials and three books. She is responsible for groundbreaking studies in microbial communication and work in the field of metagenomics. In 2011, she received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring from President Obama. In 2012, Nature named her one of “ten people who mattered this year” for her research on gender bias in science. She is the Director of the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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