STPP alum Cesar Barraza Botet describes his experience with the Mirzayan Fellowship

February 23, 2021

Cesar Barraza Botet, Mechanical Engineering PhD & STPP Certificate, '18, currently serves as Associate Professor of Engineering & Energy Policy Analyst at the Universidad de la Sabana. 

Last January, I was fortunate to start my Christine Mirzayan Science and Technology Policy Graduate Fellowship at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine in Washington, D.C. The Mirzayan Fellowship is a training program that brings early career scientist and engineers--graduate students and postdocs--to the Academies for 12 weeks to learn about science and technology policy and to acquire hands-on experience in the process that advises the nation. During the fellowship, each fellow works on projects associated with any of the Academies' units, under the guidance of a senior staff member acting as a mentor. 

My work at the Academies' Board on Energy and Environmental System (BEES) focused on three projects: (i) For the Subnational Climate Assessments workshop, I created a backgrounder on the historical developments of climate change assessments in California, and the policies that created the program and results of its findings. This information helped design the workshop content. (ii) I also developed stakeholder engagement strategies for a consensus study on technologies for improving fuel economy of light-duty vehicles, which could help the information gathering stage of the study in a similar fashion to the rulemaking process. (iii) For an ongoing collaborative paper with BEES staff, I gathered and analyzed data on climate technologies, geographically-distributed pollutant emissions, and international, national and subnational climate policies. 

Fellows are also encouraged to explore the policymaking process in D.C. beyond the Academies' work by attending workshops, conferences, Congress and Supreme Court hearings, and other events. During my time at the Academies, I went to several Senate hearings and panels organized by NGOs and development banks on various energy and climate issues, as well as to the ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit. Informational interviews are also an important part of the fellowships; they helped me grow my network, get different perspectives on what an S&T policy career path may look like, and learn of job leads in Colombia, my home country. 

A third component of the program consists of working with a group of fellows to develop a discussion session on a current S&T policy issue, which in my case was carbon capture and utilization incentives in the U.S. Bringing my experience on roundtable discussions from my STPP coursework--especially PP510--enabled us to simulate an interesting Senate hearing on the topic with a subsequent tight voting process. 

Overall, being a Mirzayan fellow has been one of the most rewarding professional experiences I have had outside my technical research. I had the opportunity to put in practice what I learned in the STPP program by connecting the S&T policy theory with the practice, while bringing my technical expertise on climate change and energy for transportation. On the personal level, living in D.C. with my family was amazing and we left the U.S. knowing more about its history, thanks to the free museums. Currently, I am back to Colombia where I am a Professor in Mechanical Engineering at the Universidad de la Sabana, also doing consulting work on technology assessments for decarbonization of the transportation sector. 

Finally, I would like to give UM students interested in applying to the Mirzayan Fellowship a few tips that may be helpful, based on my experience:

1. Show that you care about S&T policy. There are several ways you can do this while on campus. The one I recommend the most is to enroll in the STPP certificate--or at least some STPP courses--as you feel more comfortable discussing S&T policy issues, both in your application essay, and during your interviews and the fellowship itself. Another thing you could do, if you are writing a research thesis, is to make your introductory chapter a discussion on the policy issues surrounding your topic and how your results could help inform the matter.
2. Demonstrate you policy writing skills. For some project, the committee may need you to help with literature reviews and policy backgrounders. If you are a PhD student you are expected to have scientific papers published, but if you can also show your policy-writing skills, you will have an advantage. My recommendation is to publish blogs, and op-eds, policy analysis and memos, and technology assessments, or even try to publish in the Journal of Science Policy & Governance.
3. Put your policy interest into practice. You can get involved in students organizations like InSPIRE and run for UM representation positions that deal with S&T policy issues of your interest. In my case, I was one of the UM delegates to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change - COP 23 in Bonn, Germany last year. I also was RSG representative to the UM SACUA Research Policy Committee in 2015.
4. Figure out the Academies' units that may be your best match. Look into current and past projects, and the profiles of former fellows. You will have the opportunity to propose three units to host you. I would suggest including at least one experience related to each proposed unit in your essay, although you can show preferences for one over the other two.
5. Do not get too political in your essay. Keep in mind that, although you may not be happy about how S&T advising is being currently treated (Ahem! EPA), the Academies' mission is to provide independent, objective, and nonpartisan advice to the current Administration.
Good luck in your application to the Mirzayan Fellowship!