Connecting and Galvanizing the Next Generation through the CSPC: A Volunteer’s Anecdote

Published On: December 2020Categories: 2020 Next Generation, Canadian Science Policy MagazineTags:
Image of a man over colored triangles, with the text: "Connecting and Galvanizing the Next Generation through the CSPC: A Volunteer’s Anecdote Andrew Ruttinger PhD Candidate, Robert F. Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Cornell University"


Andrew Ruttinger

Cornell University

PhD Candidate, Robert F. Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Canadian Science Policy Center

Editorial and Survey Development Committee Member

I was not always pursuing a career in Canadian science policy. Rather, like many other PhD candidates in STEM fields, I found myself debating the often-posed question: industry or academia? Candidly, it is atypical for someone in engineering to follow a career trajectory in policy, so I was not exposed to the opportunities that go with it. To exacerbate this further, I was also studying in the United States, making me even more disconnected from the Canadian science policy realm. Despite this, my experience and mindset seemed to be passively guiding me in this direction. One of my primary motivations for enrolling in a PhD in engineering was to use my scientific expertise to bring about real change in Canada – to find creative solutions to modern problems. To me, it seemed the easiest route to this objective was to produce sound, novel scientific work. Yet, when I serendipitously became exposed to the idea of science policy through a new department initiative, it was like putting in the last piece of a puzzle, revealing the full picture. Yes, science begins in labs and offices, but scientific innovation flourishes when policy and decision-makers stand behind it. I was compelled by the idea that I could use my engineering background to be the critical link between scientists and decision-makers. At that moment, three thoughts crossed my mind: (1) Wait.. there’s a third option for an engineering PhD? (2) Wow, what a great way to use an engineering background to help solve grand challenges! (3) This is perfect for me, how can I get involved?! Fortuitously, I quickly discovered that the answer to the last question was the Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC).

I am sure that many people would be able to point to several instances in their career and say, “these events made me grow and pushed my career forward to where I am now.” I had those myself – my first research experience set me on a course to my eventual PhD, while working abroad in Germany broadened my perspective in my personal and professional life. However, patterns tend to be more satisfying when they follow the rule of three. Thankfully, I recently experienced my third career defining event by joining the CSPC. I am currently a first-year volunteer and a one-time attendee, having been a part of CSPC 2019, but the impact the CSPC has had on me cannot be overstated. Attending CSPC 2019 was like a jolt of energy: a refreshing, mentally stimulating, and eye-opening experience. Perhaps being in engineering so long had made me accustomed to the engineering environment, because the CSPC environment made me feel an unbridled wealth of diversity and opinions, led by passionate and focused individuals. I had the immediate sense that the CSPC was a welcoming community, unified by the goal to create a strong community for science policy in Canada. To me, that is the ethos of the CSPC, and that left an impression on me. Despite working in the United States, I felt like I was part of this community back in Canada. Despite coming from an engineering background, my perspective was welcomed as another part of this community’s mosaic. Joining the CSPC as a volunteer earlier this year only further solidified that for me.

That was back in February, which for many people probably feels like years ago. In a time of so much uncertainty, volunteering at the CSPC has provided me a stable foundation to rest on as I develop my career. Science, policy, and society has ebbed and flowed more than ever, but the CSPC seems to have taken all this in stride. Coming from a technical background, I had a lot to learn about the policy side of science policy and my volunteering has been a highly rewarding learning experience. Much of this has been through listening – listening to people’s experiences, listening to people’s opinions. I had the opportunity to review editorials discussing Canada’s current challenges and see our current world through the lens of experts across the science policy spectrum. I got the chance to be part of a team that looked at how the perception of science in Parliament has shifted as a result of the ongoing pandemic. With the pandemic in the backdrop, science has been put in the spotlight and volunteering at the CSPC has given me a first-hand account of its interplay with policy. As a professional, I have grown so much in such a short period of time, thanks to the steadiness of the CSPC through this period of turbulence.

If the new decade has shown anything in its first year, it is certainly that our challenges are only getting bigger and more complex. The climate crisis, national health, and equity, diversity, and inclusion are just some of these grand challenges that have been brought to the forefront. For this community though, each new challenge presents a new opportunity and learning experience. For me, I look forward to embracing these opportunities. I believe that science, more than ever, has an important role to play in how Canada comes out of the next decade. 2030 marks an important milestone for Canada’s emissions reduction target: a 30% reduction below 2005 levels. It also marks the end of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Certainly, there is no silver bullet to meet these objectives, but a science and evidence-based approach should be fundamental in Canada’s strategy. The CSPC has positioned itself as a hub for Canadian science policy and based on my experience here, I think it will be instrumental in facilitating action. As someone early in their career, it has provided me the skills and opportunities to hit the ground running. The seeds were planted in the last decade and the CSPC is now educating entire generations of young professionals in Canadian science policy. This will need to be a decade of action and the science policy community is ready for the task. I am both eager and grateful to learn, develop my career, and take action alongside the CSPC and Canada, moving forward to 2030 and beyond.