Program Teaches About Policy’s Intersection with Science, Technology, International Security

A lot of times Ph.D. student Marc Canellas has found himself daydreaming in class — daydreaming about how policy relates to science, that is.

“As a Ph.D. student in Aerospace Engineering, there are times where I think the most interesting part of a technical problem or subject is the policy aspect,” he said. “For example, we might be studying human-automation interaction with regard to pilots and autopilots in advanced cockpits, but I’ll be sitting there the whole time wondering how agencies like the Federal Aviation Administration certify or regulate that interaction. But since I’m sitting in an engineering class focused on the technology perspectives, I can’t ask the professor to spend significant time talking about the policy aspects.”

That’s why Canellas decided to enroll in the Sam Nunn Security Program, which aims to educate scientists and engineers about national security issues and how policy impacts them.  

For the past 12 years, Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts has offered the year-long program, which was funded by the MacArthur Foundation until this year.

Each year, 10-12 Ph.D. students, postdoctoral scholars, Georgia Tech Research Institute researchers, research scholars, and/or faculty from Georgia Tech and other area universities are selected to participate. (Applicants should be enrolled in or have completed a doctoral degree program, and have completed their qualifying exams.) About six to eight of Georgia Tech’s various schools are represented in each class of fellows, primarily from the College of Engineering and College of Sciences.  

“The basic premise of the program is that scientific discovery and technological innovation rarely produce high-impact outcomes by themselves,” said Seymour Goodman, director of the program and co-director of the Center for International Strategy, Technology, and Policy. “They have to be worked through several levels of policies in the public and private sectors, and traverse difficult implementation paths in complex economic, social, political, and institutional contexts.”

Throughout the program, fellows typically work on two case studies as a class team, and each works on two individual or small team case studies on topics that might be historical (e.g., the influenza pandemic of 1918) or current (e.g., the recent ebola outbreak). Issues explored might include everything from nuclear weapons to cybersecurity to energy and climate change.

“One of the greatest things about this program is that the fellows get to know people who come from different disciplinary backgrounds,” said Margaret Kosal, associate director of the program and an assistant professor of International Affairs. “ They learn to see how others come at problems — which is key to being able to solve them in the real world.”

Also, the fellows take two field trips where they’re briefed by “people who practice what we preach,” said Goodman. During the fall semester, the group visits a location in the southeast, such as Oak Ridge National Laboratory. And during the spring semester, fellows spend about a week in Washington, D.C., hearing from members of Congress and other groups.

The program’s 156 alumni can now be found pursuing careers everywhere from Google to the Federal Aviation Administration to the National Institutes of Health.

“Through this program, I have been able to prove to myself that my engineering background can help me solve many more problems than just math-related ones,” Canellas said. “I have and would recommend it to any other graduate students that are interested in science and technology policy and security.”

The deadline to apply for this year’s program is March 31. For more information, visit www.cistp.gatech.edu or email snsp@inta.gatech.edu

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