Integrated Concentration in Science, or iCons, graduate Lily Fitzgerald’s passion for science led her to pursue a field atypical for members of the scientific community: public policy.
Fitzgerald graduated University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2014 with an environmental science major and a biochemistry and molecular biology minor. She was also a member of the iCons Biomedicine and Biosystems track.
After graduating, Fitzgerald worked in biotechnology industry for three years, but her desire for enacting change through governmental policy never faded. From here, she applied and was accepted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Masters’ Program for Technology and Policy.
Fitzgerald is currently focusing on the idea of genetic engineering and its potential in society. Genetic engineering could create more nutritious food sources, eradicate certain diseases, and overall improve the quality of life of those impacted. However, the regulatory landscape of genetic engineering is uncertain, and in order for it to reach full potential, revisions must be made. Specifically, Fitzgerald is interested in the regulatory options to prevent harm from genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, and increase the social benefit of genetic engineering technology.
MIT's Technology and Policy Program seeks a very specific social leader, describing their students as “leaders who are engineers.” The iCons program helped her get ready for this leadership role in graduate school. Additionally, iCons provided Fitzgerald with skills crucial to the work force, such as public speaking exposure and interview skills.
“Academia doesn’t necessarily set people up for industry,” Fitzgerald said, “but the iCons model gave me experiences I could draw on.”
The focus on collaboration and leadership in iCons are what specifically prepared her for industry. Specifically, this teamwork with other fields pushed Fitzgerald to find nonconventional solutions to global problems.
“One of the things I took from studying environmental science is that the damage to Earth is so severe,” Fitzgerald said, “and we’re going to need very creative solutions to solve these problems.”
Still, regardless of her involvement in her Master’s program, Fitzgerald still finds the dynamic between science and politics troubling. This mainly comes from the stigma of both professions.
“I think it’s kind of bogus,” she said when talking about the assumption of scientists being disconnected from politics, “We’re people! We vote! We don’t spend all day at a bench!”
In her time in graduate school, Fitzgerald has worked with political scientists, which led her to learn how to approach genetic engineering from different angles. While Fitzgerald does not see herself as a political scientist, she appreciates and benefits from their work.
Despite her balancing act between her courses and 20 to 30 hours of research a week, Fitzgerald works hard to get involved with the MIT community by attending lectures or talks in fields outside hers.
She said, “I try to embrace being here, and I try to embrace not only my field but others as well.”
Fitzgerald also talked about why it is important for scientist to be challenged by other fields. She explained that each field looks at problems in different perspectives, but may not be always right.
It is this open mind that keeps her hopeful of the potential positive impact of science policy in coming years.