Describe your job and what you do on a day-to-day basis.
I am currently a Legislative Aide and act as Communications Director for an Assemblymember in the California State Legislature. It’s tough to describe what I do on a day-to-day basis, as it varies quite a lot! Mainly it depends on the legislative calendar and those deadlines, but the unexpected can happen all the time. I staff the Assemblymember on a range of policy issues, including Health, Human Services, and Education. In addition to being lead person for several bills, I also handle communications for my office, where I work on things like press releases, op-eds, interviews, and outreach. It’s a bit of a contrast to my hyper-focused research background, as I now handle a much wider range of issues on an often-unpredictable, accelerated timeline. One of the cool things about this job is that I’m constantly learning new things.
How did you get your first job out of academia?
My first job out of academia was as a California Council on Science and Technology (CCST) Policy Fellow (more information: http://fellows.ccst.us/apply.php). This is a fantastic one year fellowship that embeds ten PhD scientists and engineers in the California State Legislature. The full application process consists of a personal statement and recommendation letters – similar to applying to grad school – followed by a writing exercise and interview. The fellows are put through a month-long training period before interviews and placement in host offices. Many former CCST fellows stay involved in the policy world at the state and federal level, either in the legislature, agencies, or advocacy groups. Whether you want to go back to academia or transition to policy, this is a fantastic program to get first-hand experience of how policy is made.
Tell us about your academic background.
I obtained by B.S and M.Eng in Bioengineering from Cornell University. My research work focused on the applications of a specific biodegradable polymer. Towards the end of my time at Cornell, I became interested in how other variables, such as social and political factors, affect research and innovation. I took a few years off to work as a research tech at Children’s Hospital Boston, where I worked on the use of silk for bladder repair. I also had the chance to dive into how stem cells regulate their fate, which sparked an interest in molecular biology. I attended the University of Michigan because I really wanted an interdisciplinary, umbrella-type graduate program. I also liked the fact that at Michigan, a student could take classes outside the Biomedical Sciences and could earn certificates in several concentrated areas. My thesis work focused on a very specific conversation tumor cells have with the non-tumor cells around them, and how that contributes to tumor progression. I also obtained a Science, Technology, and Public Policy Graduate Certificate from the Ford School of Public Policy.
What is one piece of advice you would give to someone looking for a job now?
Don’t be afraid to reach out to people who transitioned from academia into positions that interest you. Talking to them about their experience can help provide insight to guide your own decisions about what you want to do and how to get there. And if there’s the opportunity to take a class or two outside your specific field – be it law, policy, or business – I would recommend that too.
Learn more about Esha on LinkedIn.