Sarah Brady, PhD, was a CCST Science & Technology Policy Fellow in 2014. She came to Sacramento with a PhD in Chemistry from the University of Oregon, where her research focused on how sunlight and heat decomposes plastics. Brady spent her CCST year placed with the Office of Assemblymember Susan Bonilla (D-Concord), where she continues to serve as a Legislative Assistant coordinating natural resources, environmental toxicity, education, and utilities portfolios.
[August 2016 Update: Brady has been promoted to Legislative Director for Assemblywoman Bonilla.]
[September 2016 Update: Brady has joined CCST as a Senior Program Associate. Welcome back, Sarah!]
Name: Sarah Brady
Fellowship Year: 2014
Fellowship Placement: Office of Assemblymember Susan Bonilla
Q: Why did you originally decide to seek out a policy fellowship experience?
A: After working in a lab setting for several years, both in undergraduate internships and in graduate school, I realized that I missed the type of job that allowed me to make a difference on a quicker time and pace, and one that would allow me to interact with all different kinds of people on a regular basis.
I had participated in speech and debate all throughout high school and college, and I enjoyed regular opportunities to work on communicating science to the public — so I truly missed that while I was in graduate school. One of my favorite and most successful speeches in college was on the politicization of scientific research, and that speech sparked my fascination with the intersection of science and public policy.
When I learned about the CCST Science & Technology Policy Fellowship, I realized it was the perfect opportunity for me to use my technical background, and also work on how science is used in making public policy decisions. I was thrilled that something I was so passionate about could actually become my full-time job!
Q: Did you find that your professional skills and instincts grew as the Fellowship year went on? Were the CCST trainings and events helpful to your professional development?
A: I learned an incredible amount during my CCST Fellowship. One of the biggest reasons I accepted a permanent job in Assemblywoman Bonilla’s office at the end of my Fellowship was because I knew there was still so much left for me to learn.
I am now in my third year in the California State Legislature, and I am still learning every single day — I now know way more about biomethane, distributed generation, pregnancy discrimination, and open-source resources than I ever expected! Assemblymember Bonilla has allowed me to continue to build my portfolio and increase my responsibilities as my skills and instincts have grown. With our office’s mentorship and support, I’m now able to staff a larger number of bills each year, and have taken on additional issue areas. I am also able to work on more controversial bills, as well as those which are high priorities for Ms. Bonilla.
I also believe that my technical background and my graduate school training have allowed me to learn quickly and work efficiently in the Capitol setting — where the workload is high and the timelines are short.
Q: What’s it like networking and working as a professional policymaker in the capital of the State of California?
A: It’s a ton of fun — I can honestly say that I love my job! Every single day is different and sometimes you just have no idea what to expect. It is absolutely impossible to be bored, and that is just how I like my life to be!
It’s been fascinating to come from graduate school — where I was incredibly focused on a very specific topic — to a setting where I need to have a solid handle on a ton of different issues. It can be challenging to fit it all in, and shift between discussions on teacher credentialing to ocean acidification. However, my office works together in an incredibly collaborative manner, in order to ensure we analyze every policy issue and provide Assemblywoman Bonilla with the information background she needs.
Q: In the course of the Fellowship, did you gain any mentors? How have those relationships helped your personal and professional growth?
A: I gained a few incredible mentors during the course of my Fellowship — many of whom I am still close with today. My Chief of Staff, Luis Quinonez; the Assembly contact for the Fellowship, Gabrielle Zeps; and the Deputy Director of CCST, Amber Mace, have all helped me learn and grow during my time here. Those three relationships are incredibly important to me both personally and professionally. I know I can ask them any question and they will give me honest answers, and I feel grateful and lucky to know that they have my best interests at heart.
In particular, Luis has been instrumental in my personal and professional growth. He has trusted me to address challenging legislative questions, convene important stakeholder meetings, and given me the freedom to pitch my own bill ideas. It also helps that we just get along and are able to trust one another implicitly.
Q: What are some of your favorite memories or proudest accomplishments from your Fellowship year?
A: My proudest accomplishment is that I pitched a bill idea to Assemblywoman Bonilla — one which eventually was signed by Governor Brown.
I articulated the need for a family-leave policy for graduate students. I wrote the policy, engaged a diverse group of stakeholders, and worked through many rounds of amendments to get the bill signed by the Governor. Today, every higher education institution in California must have a policy regarding family leave for graduate students. And subsequently, a law professor I worked with on the bill received a National Science Foundation grant to study the law’s implementation, and use it as a model for other states. I also attended a summit meeting at the National Academies to discuss Title IX enforcement of this policy.
Q: What did you come to love and appreciate during your year living in Sacramento or living in California?
A: I never, ever thought I would fall in love with Sacramento and California like I did.
Much to my Wisconsin mother’s chagrin, I could definitely see myself living here permanently. I do miss the Wisconsin snow a lot, but it’s pretty amazing to be able to walk to work here every day in moderate temperatures! Sacramento has a ton of great restaurants, running paths, concert venues, and farmers markets — there is always something to do. I also enjoy brewing my own beer and taking advantage of the amazing craft breweries around town.
Plus, I just love the people here. I’ve met so many friends who have truly become family in the Fellowship, the Capitol, and my gym. They make living and working in Sacramento so fulfilling.
Q: How has the Fellowship impacted the trajectory of your career?
A: My Fellowship experience absolutely solidified my career direction in science policy. I know that wherever my career takes me, it will still be in this field. It would have been much more difficult to have gotten a job in the California State Capitol without the Fellowship; CCST opened doors for me and gave me incredible opportunities to build my skill set and network.
Sometimes when people I meet in the Capitol learn that I have a PhD in Chemistry, they can’t comprehend why in the world I work in a legislative office. However, when I explain the goal of CCST and the Fellowship, and what I learned, then they completely understand — and are even thrilled to know that there are scientists working here in the Legislature.
Q: Would you recommend the CCST Science & Technology Policy Fellowship to a prospective applicant? Why?
A: YES. You will learn more than you ever thought possible, grow in ways you never expected, and even if science policy turns out not to be for you, you will never regret the year you spend here.
Follow updates from the CCST Science Fellows on Facebook at facebook.com/ccstfellows, on Twitter @CCSTFellows, and on LinkedIn. Learn more about the CCST Science & Technology Policy Fellowship at fellows.ccst.us.