Christine Hochmuth Casey, PhD, was a CCST Science & Technology Policy Fellow in 2015. Casey was placed in the California State Senate Committee on Transportation and Housing. Casey received her PhD in Biology from the University of Rochester and conducted postdoctoral research at UC San Diego. She is currently a Finance Budget Analyst with the California Department of Finance, responsible for CARB, OEHHA, and other units within CalEPA, including the California Cap-and-Trade Program. [April 2017 Update: Casey has joined CCST as a Senior Program Associate, managing the Federal Laboratory Affiliates program and other projects. Welcome back, Christine!]
Name: Christine Hochmuth Casey
Fellowship Year: 2015
Fellowship Placement: Senate Committee on Transportation and Housing
Q: Why did you originally decide to seek out a policy fellowship experience?
A: I always wanted to be a teacher growing up. However, as much as I enjoyed teaching, I realized that my career goals were strongly influenced by being surrounded by a family of educators.
During my postdoctoral training I took a career assessment test (the AAAS Individual Development Plan) to see what other careers I could be missing out on — ones that would utilize not only my skills and experiences, but also fit with my personality and work environment preferences.
One of the top hits from my assessment turned out to be science policy, so I started researching opportunities to see how I could explore this career path further.
Q: Think back to your first month with CCST. How did you feel during that first month of “policy boot camp” trainings and meeting your new colleagues?
A: At the beginning of the Fellowship, I naturally experienced a bit of “imposter syndrome” — the feeling that you don’t belong or aren’t qualified for a certain position, and the worry that you would be labeled as a pretender.
CCST understands this common phenomenon and the staff really helped us combat it, providing training that prepared us to tackle our duties and responsibilities in the Legislature. They also reassured us that we already had skills that would help us to be successful in the world of policy — which was a great confidence booster during this transitional period.
And the fact that I was going through this process with nine other people — all who were likely feeling the same way — also was super comforting. It bonded us as a great support system for one another!
Q: What’s it like networking and working as a professional policymaker in the capital of the State of California?
A: I loved meeting people who were passionate about their respective policy areas. Whether it was affordable housing supporters, bicycle advocates, or animal welfare representatives, the excitement that they convey is contagious and makes work exciting.
Networking and working as a professional policymaker in the Capitol also means that you’re learning new things every day from people who are experts in their field. And being a scientist, I tended to do a lot of fact-checking and deeper reading after these kinds of meetings. Old habits die hard!
Q: In the course of the Fellowship, did you gain any mentors? How have those relationships helped your personal and professional growth?
A: In addition to my mentors at CCST, I gained mentors in my assigned office. There was something valuable to learn from every staff member, and these relationships have helped my personal and professional growth. In addition to helping me learn the skills required as policy analyst, they were instrumental in counseling me on important career decisions.
Q: What are some of your favorite memories or proudest accomplishments from your Fellowship year? What were some of the most challenging moments or lessons learned?
A: I really enjoyed being involved with a committee that was directly impacted by the declaration of a Special Session. While we had been working on the issue of transportation funding all year, the Special Session on roads, highways, and other infrastructure brought increased urgency, renewed negotiations, additional bill analyses, and more informational hearings. There was much excitement and added learning opportunities for me during this experience.
I also enjoyed organizing a regional informational hearing in Los Angeles related to transportation funding needs. It was really educational to travel outside of the Capitol, and hear firsthand the concerns that local city and county governments had regarding project financing.
Q: What did you come to love and appreciate during your year living in Sacramento or living in California?
A: During the first six months of the Fellowship, my fiancé (now husband) was based in San Diego. Thankfully, I was very close with my Fellowship cohort, and us Science Fellows would often get together to talk shop and catch up on our personal lives. This helped my transition to Sacramento life immensely.
I also started playing recreational softball and joined several soccer leagues. I repaid my mentor for his time and patience by helping him coach his kid’s U-6 soccer team in the East Sacramento soccer league. I also joined a book club hosted by these fantastically intelligent women professionals who shared my love for good literature and great conversation (and delicious wine). All of these activities helped me feel that I was growing and building a solid network in the Sacramento area.
Q: Do you feel like you’ve made a difference?
A: I definitely feel like I’ve made a difference. Many of the bills that I worked on during my Fellowship have since been signed into law. I worked hard to make sure that stakeholders and agencies agreed on the legislation and the intended objectives of the law, and I’m proud to have played my part.
Q: How has the Fellowship impacted the trajectory of your career?
A: Working for a year in the California State Legislature was an eye-opening experience. The more I learned about the legislative process, the more I wanted to explore how it fit into the bigger picture of state government as a whole.
When a job opened up at the Department of Finance as a budget analyst, I realized that I’d have a chance to work on policy while also learning the budget process. It would let me continue to help the Legislature and the Administration to work together, threading the confines of limited resources and prioritized policy objectives. And my science background will continue to help me on my current assignment, as I tackle fiscal and policy questions related to greenhouse gas emissions, short-lived climate pollutants, and other environmental topics.
I never would have imagined I’d end up in my current job, but I’m excited to stay engaged in this aspect of state government.
Q: Would you recommend the CCST Science & Technology Policy Fellowship to a prospective applicant? Why?
A: I would, and I have! The Fellowship offers an amazing opportunity to transition to a new career, while providing support and guidance that invests in one’s personal and career growth. The success stories of former Science Fellows are a testament to the training and networking opportunities that the Fellowship provides, and I confidently recommend the program to any scientist who is interested.