Week 5: Exploring the Quantitative

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Friday, July 9, 2021


Julia Bauer

Last Tuesday marked an important milestone of my time at FYI: the half-way point. I sampled several policy analyst tasks this week. While I have continued writing science policy articles/blurbs, I now spend more time compiling and graphing relevant data from federal agencies. Most recently, I consolidated data from the DOJ website and other news sources about the contentious “China Initiative.” According to the DOJ, the China Initiative aims to counter “Chinese national security threats and reinforce the President’s overall national security strategy.” Several human rights organizations have protested the initiative on the grounds that its enforcement amounts to racial profiling. Though FYI is arguably best known for its science policy reporting, staff members also devote significant amounts of time to collecting and analyzing data related to Congressional bills and budget figures. 


I later compiled data for another FYI staff member’s upcoming bulletin on the Energy Infrastructure Act. One interesting challenge that arose during the data “polishing” process was making decisions on how best to categorize different funding figures. The process reminded me of the one I went through during my political science research methods class, where I operationalized abstract policy-related concepts. The challenge lies in making logical and consistent decisions on the grouping of different budget line items, which is complicated by the fact that some technologies are dual-use (e.g., some technologies can be used in both the energy and defense sectors). The variety of the past week’s work was especially meaningful considering I did not anticipate performing quantitative work at the beginning of the summer. 


Finally, I had a wonderful time attending Dr. Rush Holt’s talk, entitled, “Running at the Speed of Light, Persistence Personified (…a brief meditation on the power of persistence as embodied in Einstein).” Dr. Holt's talk hinged on his belief that physics should be an accessible discipline. He talked briefly about his experience interacting with non-physicists in Congress, particularly their assumption that he must be “brilliant” because of his academic background. He argued that the brilliance myth unnecessarily keeps talented people out of physics and that physicists should be more intentional in framing their work to the public. His talk reminded me of a NYT article I read many years ago that touched on the fact that young women are more likely than young men to believe that mathematical proficiency is innate, not learned. I appreciated Dr. Holt’s emphasis on the importance of hard work in mastering difficult concepts, especially as I prepare to move into the second half of my undergraduate career. 


Until next week,

Julia Bauer