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Rewarding Career Path and Connections

By Jeff Frithsen PhD, Oceanography, University of Rhode Island 1989 Science & Technology Policy Fellow, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

When Jeff Frithsen thinks back on his time as a Fellow at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the projects completed during the fellowship seem almost secondary to the experience of just being a Fellow. In 1989 when Frithsen participated in the program, the fellowships at the EPA were 10-week summer assignments (the fellowships at the EPA transition to a full year program in 1999). He didn't realize then how those 10 weeks would permanently impact his career path.

Most scientists enter the world of science because they have a huge sense of curiosity; they want to know how the world works. Somewhere along the way Frithsen started to want to do more. He wanted his research to directly inform decision-making. "I wanted to expand on existing knowledge in a way that could be used to inform real-world decisions and through doing so, make a real difference in terms of the quality of our environment. I wanted to know the work I did was relevant to everyday decisions," he explained.

"After the intense orientation I attended as a part of the AAAS Fellowship Program, I became better aware with how science actually works in Washington. Through the program, we Fellows met scientists like Anthony Fauci from the NIH, and science-savvy politicians like Al Gore, then senator from Tennessee. We learned how scientists and politicians work together (mostly) to have science inform public policy decisions. I would not have been exposed to this without being a AAAS fellow."

After his fellowship ended, Frithsen returned to the University of Rhode Island as an academic scientist and continued studying esuarine ecology. In part due to the fellowship experience, within four months an opportunity arose for him to return to the DC-area as an environmental consultant to help design and launch a new program for the EPA. That led to a full-time post at the EPA, where he has been employed since 1998.

Currently Frithsen is a group chief with the EPA's Office of Research and Development. He describes his talented group of scientists as being wonderfully bipolar, one team working to improve approaches used by the Agency to complete human exposure assessments, and the other team working to develop and apply approaches used to identify the causes of biological impairments in aquatic systems.

As a mentor for the S&T Policy Fellows at EPA over the years, Frithsen is an advocate for incorporating Fellows into EPA teams to augment expertise on existing programs and to explore new areas of research. Frithsen welcomes the mentorship role, emphasizing the benefit to both fellows and the EPA.

"Even so many years later I am looking to the network of Fellows that exists in Washington to find out the latest information - who knows what on a certain topic. Nothing beats a well-stocked, up-to-date contact list in this town. There's a common recognition between Fellows and that's invaluable."

Disclaimer: The perspectives and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of AAAS, the Science & Technology Policy Fellowships, the U.S. Government, or the federal agencies/offices mentioned.