After winning the NASA Fame Lab science communication competition in 2014, Pharmacology Postdoc Lyl Tomlinson (’17) will now make an even broader impact as one of the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) newest science policy fellows in Washington, DC.
The premiere science policy fellowship in the U.S., the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowship program brings PhD-level scientists and engineers to Washington for an exciting crash course in policy making from the front lines. Tomlinson’s one-year fellowship will place him in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of the Director, where he will contribute to NIH-wide strategic initiatives such as those funded through the agency’s Common Fund.
The fellowship is merely the next step in Tomlinson’s career path in policy. Since his success with Fame Lab early in his PhD training in Stony Brook’s Neuroscience program, Tomlinson has leveraged his easy communication style to contribute to broader issues within his community. While completing his doctoral research on the mental benefits of exercise in Dr. Holly Colognato’s lab, he also joined the Graduate Student Organization as his program’s senator. He has since gone on to advocate for the importance of science and science literacy through visits both to congressional offices with SBU’s Office of Legislative Affairs and local high schools as part of the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science’s Science Unplugged outreach program.
“Lyl is an ideal advocate for science, in that he is able to balance his knowledge with clarity, humor and approachability,” said Valeri Lantz-Gefroh, lead instructor for Science Unplugged and the improvisation program at the Alda Center. “If he can help high school students, who have never set foot in a lab, both understand and appreciate the need for research, I have great hope for his impact with policymakers.”
Casting an eye toward his future career, Tomlinson founded a graduate student club focused on science policy and advocacy, called Scientists for Policy, Advocacy, Diplomacy and Education (SPADE) and organized a successful policy forum on an issue of strong local concern on Long Island — the opioid addiction epidemic. One of the legacies of his policy efforts at Stony Brook is the creation of a graduate-level course on Introduction to Science Policy (GRD 520), typically taught each spring.
“Something that always has impressed me about Lyl is how community-oriented he is,” said Kathleen Flint Ehm, Director for Graduate and Postdoctoral Career Development. “Where some students might have focused upon their own individual career development, Lyl invariably finds a way to turn his efforts into a resource for the whole SBU community.” As an example, Flint Ehm cites the program she runs with Tomlinson, now a part-time program coordinator in her office, that grew from his commitment to broadening the career preparation of his fellow graduate students. Funded by SBU’s Diversity Plan implementation, PhD Works Professional Development Awards for Inclusion and Equity support non-academic career development activities for graduate students who contribute to diversifying the professional workforce.
“A policy fellowship is the perfect next step for Lyl,” adds Flint Ehm, a former AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow herself. “As one of my own mentors used to say, ‘Washington needs more scientists.’ And it needs more scientists like Lyl.”
From dwindling federal research funding to energy policy to the evolving scientific workforce, science threads through numerous issues tackled by DC policymakers. AAAS policy fellows contribute their scientific expertise to these discussion, while also gaining valuable insight and experience with the federal landscape for science and research. After their time in Washington, many fellows return to full-time research and many more go on to policy-related or other careers that leverage these unique experiences.
“For 45 years, AAAS policy fellows have been making an impact on American life through the federal government,” said Jennifer Pearl, STPF Director and Stony Brook alumna (’98). “Each fall we look forward to providing a career-enhancing experience to highly qualified scientists and engineers like Lyl.”
Wherever Tomlinson’s fellowship experience may lead him, one thing is certain — he will continue to be an advocate for science.