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“So are you a STEM major or a humanities major?”

When I meet new people, this is usually one of the first questions they ask (it’s also a question that I often ask other people). Majors and general areas of study can show a lot about people in terms of their interests and thinking patterns, but it suggests that STEM and humanities are dichotomous fields that do not coincide in any relevant ways. Although I’ve only been working in science policy for two weeks, I’m learning the importance of interdisciplinary thinking and knowledge accessibility.

This summer, I am interning at the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy in Washington, D.C. At the Margolis Center, I research academic sources to aid in policy recommendations, as well as track health policies going through the federal government. As a public policy and history major, I primarily spend my time at Duke learning about policies, political institutions, and social narratives. In fact, I have not taken a formal course in biology, chemistry, or physics since high school. But in health policy, knowing how to write memos and analyze primary sources is not enough to offer the level of work that the Margolis Center produces. During my first few days at work, I found myself searching questions such as “How do Medicare and Medicaid work?” or “What causes a stroke?” – questions that students majoring in pre-health fields would likely be able to answer. Although many parts of my internship at Margolis reflected material from my public policy classes at Duke (identifying policy institutions, evaluating academic journals, etc.), much of the content was foreign. I did not know many of the health-related terms that my supervisors and coworkers used, and I still ask questions about health care all the time.

Working in health policy is teaching me that interdisciplinary knowledge not only streamlines work processes but also incorporates diverse perspectives. I believe that STEM and humanities actively complement each other and support the advancement of one another. In this case, knowledge of both health systems and public policy is invaluable. I’m also learning that fields such as biology and health care are more accessible than I thought. In just two weeks, I’ve learned so much more about medical practices and the United States health care system than I anticipated prior to DukeEngage. Personally, I have a tendency to compartmentalize information and identify more strongly with subjects such as public policy than with STEM subjects. However, I want to spend time this summer thinking about what it means to not only look for intersections between science and policy, but to move away from the idea of compartmentalizing the two topics altogether. In other words, I’m curious about what it looks like to study science policy as a single field, as opposed to science vs. policy.