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As I reflect on my first two weeks in Washington, D.C., I am inclined to consider how my personal and academic choices thus far have culminated in my current opportunity, DukeEngage in D.C.

June 27, 2019. Our cohort had a mini photo-shoot following a phenomenal tour of the Capitol building.

For as long as I can remember, my academic life has been permeated by science. I grew up in a home that emphasized the merits of STEM education and spent my high school career on a specialized biomedical sciences track. As I matriculated to Duke and spent my first two semesters suffering through the typical pre-med courses, I realized that the only time I was academically motivated was during a history course that revolved around the intricacies of American democracy. It was then that I decided that I would abandon the chemistry degree I always envisioned on receiving and pivot towards an educational experience that was slightly foreign yet vastly more invigorating to me.

This fall, I will be entering my junior year at Duke as a Public Policy and History double major. This summer, I am working at the Alliance for Health Policy – an organization that encapsulates my academic interests within science and policy. It is a nonpartisan organization that seeks to inform health policymaking through unbiased, evidence-based policy briefings and other educational events. Thus far, I have attended numerous Senate and House hearings on health-related bills, external events organized by think tanks around D.C., and have met inspiring and interesting figures within the healthcare space.

June 27, 2019. Panorama from the Alliance’s policy briefing on drivers of maternal mortality.

An important aspect of this DukeEngage is the discussions and programming centered around the interactions between science and policy. Before my acceptance into this program, I had always thought of academia in a dichotomous, binary manner: it was either STEM or humanities. This thought process could probably be attributed to my own experience making the jump between the two.

However, after a compelling discussion amongst my cohort, I am wondering why there seems to be a need for such a delineation. At Duke and beyond, students confine and label themselves as either a “STEM or humanities person.” However, as I move through my health policy internship, I am seeing how evident the bridge between the two is. At the Alliance, I am synthesizing scientific research into deliverables that can be utilized to inform policy and am seeing how policy can limit or facilitate scientific innovation. During our DukeEngage discussions, students from a plethora of academic backgrounds are coming together to try to understand how and when science and policy interact.

June 16, 2019. Selfie at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Not pictured: me

It may seem natural and easy to self-categorize ourselves. However, in a world that is not divided into rigid segments, it’s important and often times most impactful to bring all these different pieces together.