Past Events


Oct 5th Local Gov’t Engagement Workshop with ESAL & NSPN

Video is owned by Engineers & Scientists Acting Locally (ESAL) and not open for distribution to those who did not attend the event, but check out the links shared during the presentation, here.

Sept 29 Crash Course in LA Politics & SciPol topics of note

Video will be up soon! Working on getting all our videos online and embedded externally instead of using WordPress’s as it seems to not work…

Feb 17 Science & Democracy Discussion

Introduction to the club and a discussion on Science and Democracy with Dr. Yael Wohlinksy-Nahmias!


Nov 13-14 National Science Policy Symposium

October 28 Meet & Greet w/ Knauss Fellow and
SFBay Conservation Scientist Dr Megan Hall

Dr. Megan Hall is a Coastal Scientist working on policy development at the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, where she has managed two major policy amendment processes to facilitate habitat restoration and increase coastal resilience to rising sea level. Prior to joining BCDC’s staff, Megan was a Knauss Marine Policy Fellow with NOAA’s National Ocean Service in the Policy and Constituent Affairs Division. Megan received her Ph.D. from USC, where she studied the effects of copper and ocean acidification on mussel larval development in the Gracey Lab. 

Sept 18 What is a Policy Brief?

August 27 “What Is A Career in Science Policy?” Discussion with Dr. Tepring Piquado of RAND Corp

A talk with Dr Tepring Piquado about career development, the california Council for Science and Technology Fellowship, science policy research at RAND, and her work drafting policies for CA State Senate.

July 8 “While You Werent Looking” Science Bill Update

An online discussion on topics that have flown under the radar with the pandemic news and recent upheavals. Focus on EPA rollbacks and the current state of science focused bills. How is Congress even working right now and how does science policy factor in their priorities? The wheels of policy are still turning, and science policy has long and wide-ranging consequences.

April 28 Pandemic Policies

Whether you’ve been trying to ignore the news or you’ve been doing deep dives into current numbers, let’s switch gears a bit and talk about science policy and communication in pandemics.What questions do you have about the ways science is aiding decision making in current events? Let’s discuss pandemic policy, international vs federal vs state responses to covid-19.

Feb 28 Negative Emission Technologies

Negative Emission Tech seminar

Dinner dicsussions: you bring your questions and expertise, we’ll bring dinner + dessert! A 2019 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine committee report concluded that achieving Paris goals w/o retarding economic growth will likely require 10 Gt of CO2 be extracted from the atmosphere annually by 2050. We had a discussion of current strategies and impediments for the above. How can policy help these goals, and what can YOU do to support these policies?

Feb 18 Science Stances of Presidential Candidates

As primaries for 17 states and territories approached, we held an event to learn about where all candidates stood on science issues, and how to advocate about issues important to you. We had information on Democratic and Republican candidates’ stances topics including:

  • Healthcare and mental health policies
  • Climate specific action plan where applicable
  • Nuclear energy, renewable energy
  • Space policy
  • Food sustainability and security
  • Student debt

Jan 28 Dinner Discussion: CA proposes its own prescription drug label

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s most recent state budget proposes an ambitious conceptual plan to manufacture generic drugs under the state’s own label as a way of increasing competition and lowering costs.What might this mean? What are the risks and potential benefits? What details currently exist? Some reading material to whet your appetite:


[please be patient as we update this]

Wednesday, Dec 4

Planetary Policy: The Politics of the Final Frontier

Thursday, October 3

Water Policy Brief: Brainstorming & Writing

Tuesday, September 24

Vaping/Smoking Policy & the Science Behind It

Friday, April 26


Panel w/ California Council for Science and Technology & UCR’s Science to Policy Program

Thursday, March 21

Dinner Discussion: Science and Social Media

Thursday, April 4

Dinner Discussion: The use of science in Advertising

March 7

Dinner Discussion: Replication Crisis in Science

Is psychology and science in general facing a replication crisis? In psychology, more and more studies are being found to not have consistent results upon replication. We discussed these issues over dinner beginning with these articles.

Feb 22

USC Science Policy Group and California Citizens Redistricting Commission

California Redistricting Commission Panel

We had a panel and Q&A from three members on the California Redistricting Commission to learn about the science and strategy that goes behind redrawing California’s congressional districts! This panel had a diverse partisanship to give different perspectives on how this drawing occurs.

Feb 21

Gerrymandering Dinner Discussion

The process of redrawing districts has a long history of swaying elections. What can be done to stop gerrymandering and create better district equality? Read this article to get started on this issue.

Jan 17

Golden State Killer Discussion

Are you interested in how your DNA sequence can be used against you and others? Read about how DNA evidence was obtained from 23 and Me by prosecutors to solve a cold-case of the Golden State Killer in this article. We discussed the implications of using genome data in situations like these.


Nov 13

Coastal Science and Policy!

We discussed the interface of science and policy through a coastal lens!

Nick Sadrpour with USC Sea Grant gave a presentation about his work on connecting the science behind coastal processes and hazards with community planning efforts at the city and state level. Ever wonder who managers our beaches? How a city like Los Angeles looks at issues like sea level rise? This event discussed the integration of science with government and how this interaction presents challenges and opportunities.

Nick focuses on connecting USC Sea Grant funded research and projects with managers, planners and community members in California. Through collaborations among government, research, and NGO communities, he strives to connect the dots to promote creative solutions to coastal issues. Previously he served as a California Sea Grant Fellow with the Ocean Protection Council, fostering relationships among scientists, stakeholders, and decision makers. Nick earned his M.S. in Coastal and Watershed Science and Policy from CSU Monterey Bay. He is an avid surfer and ocean enthusiast, driven to build collaborative efforts to promote the use and conservation of coastal resources.

Oct 30

Contact government reps and midterm edition lunch letter writing

We shared resources about midterm election issues that affect folks in STEM and discussed how to get the word out to your Congresspeople/governor/mayor/agency head about issues that concern you.

In the 2016 general election, just 48.3% of eligible students voted. The numbers for turnout among STEM students are even worse: among STEM students as a whole, turnout was only 43.6%, and among STEM graduate students in particular, it was a meager 34.4% (just 15.4% voter turnout among STEM students in the last midterm!).

Oct 22

What’s going on in Healthcare Policy?

Dr. Sonali Saluja informed us about current healthcare policy as well as what healthcare professionals are doing to shape it.

We discussed knowledge of healthcare policy and how it may affect healthcare professionals and their patients, as well as how Dr. Saluja’s current research combines economics, science, and policy.

Oct 4

Chasing Coral

Movie Screening: Chasing Coral

We watched the documentary and discussed the way science was presented in the film.

Sept 17

Science and Policy: An Introduction and Discussion

Policy is a way to change social norms and behavior. Science is one means by which policies can be supported, developed, and advanced. We discussed how issues of personal freedoms, democracy, and communications yield difficulties in science policy with examples from environmental , public health & immunization, and more.

Led by Prof. Yael Wolinsky-Nahmias

April 12

Fun Science Policy Debates!

We formed teams of 2 and squared off against each other in randomly drawn topics, in categories Tech, Science Education, Climate, Healthcare, Funding, and more! Lots of food and fun, and likely back next year.

March 23rd

Resources for Empowering International Researchers in the U.S., with Dr. Adriana Bankston of Future of Research

International researchers constitute a valuable portion of the U.S. biomedical workforce. However, they may not always be aware of university policies and additional useful resources when performing research in the U.S. This presentation highlighted information in multiple areas of interest to international researchers, including visa, fellowship and career-related topics. In addition, while international researchers in the U.S. often engage in advocating for science, they may not be adequately trained to do so. We discussed general motivations for researchers to engage in science advocacy, and provide resources to improve their advocacy skills. Finally, we shared particular considerations that international researchers should be aware of when publicly advocating for science.

March 6

Monthly Letter Writing, co-sponsored by ENST!

March 6

Project Nim Movie Night and discussion

February 16th

From Trash to Bricks: A talk with Leandro Lima

EcoInclusión is a non-profit working on solutions to issues of plastic trash and lack of access to housing, a two-for-one home grown solution in Argentina. EcoInclusion has been commended by several prizes in South America advancing young entrepreneurs working on environmental justice solutions. Leandro Lima, one of Ecolnclusión’s founders, spoke about getting the project off the ground and the challenges to working in the non-profit sector.

February 6th

Monthly letter Writing to your representatives

Thanks to NGF for sponsoring pizza!

January 17th

The intersection between science and diplomacy with Dr. Nick Cull

Dr. Nicholas J. Cull is Professor of Public Diplomacy at USC and the founding director of USC’s Master of Public Diplomacy program. He works in interdisciplinary research areas, and gave a talk about the role science and scientists play in public diplomacy and public opinion. As a close associate of the British Council’s Counterpoint Think Tank and Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, Professor Cull is an expert in the roles of advocacy, exchange, and culture play in policymaking. We discussed what science diplomacy is, and specifically how science diplomacy plays out here at USC.


Dec 1st

First Science Policy Group at USC Debate!

For our last event of the semester SPG hosted a Science Policy Debate. Teams of 2-3 people squared off in quick (5 minute) bracket-style challenges. Topics ranged from technology policy to medical and education policy, and lots in between. We will likely repeat this fun event in the future.

Nov 16th

Letter Writing to your Representatives!

The November edition of our monthly letter writing campaign. Make it a monthly habit of yours!

Nov 6th

Cover Letter Workshop with Dave Dr. Dave Baiocchi

Dave is the Director of RAND Corporation’s Summer Internship Program for Graduate Students. A wide range of policy fellowship and internship applications is due in the coming months. After a very successful RAND event earlier in the semester, Dave was back to share his Do’s and Don’ts of cover letter and resume writing.

Oct 18th
Letter writing to your representatives
Frustrated by the goings-on in DC? Overwhelmed by how many letters you could be writing to your representatives? Try taking just an hour with us. Write one to three letters to your representatives and grab a slice of pizza. We’ll provide paper, stamps, envelopes, postcards, and ideas about what to write about. Make monthly letter writing part of your civic duty habit!

Wednesday, Oct 11th

CAR-T Immunotherapy discussion with Brian Leung 

This upcoming cancer therapeutic technique uses the patient’s own immune cells. It has captured the attention of the healthcare field due to some of the remarkable results gathered from clinical trials. Brian Leung (USC Neuroscience grad student) led the discussion about CAR-T therapy with the USC Science Policy Group, including an overview, ethical discussion and an open discussion.

Thursday, Oct 5

Climate Change Cliff Notes

We watched the livestream of “Climate Change Cliff Notes” panelists Michael Mann, Sarah Feakins, and Daniel Swain, moderated by Bob Lalasz. This event was sold out at the Tar Pitts, but was streamed via facebook live as part of the La Brea Tar Pitts Climate Series for the Ages.  The entire series is an experiment on climate communication, and active research is being conducted in the process.

Sept. 28

Working on your Science Policy ‘Elevator Pitch’

We discussed several types of elevator pitches, and the need to have different ones for your colleagues, friends, and policy makers. Stay tuned for a later event where we film each other and see how well we are coming across!

Tuesday, Sept. 19

Letter writing to your representatives

Beyond personally visiting their office, the most effective way to communicate with congressional members is by letter writing. Personalized letters and emails to them can be informative and help them connect to their constituents. This recurring event will happen monthly at different days and times, so if you missed this one be sure to catch next month’s letter writing event on Oct 18 from 11-2!

Friday, Sept. 8th

What is Science and Technology Policy and what do SciPol Analysts do?

Dr. Dave Baiocchi is a senior researcher at the RAND Corporation’s Applied Sciences and Technology division. He works on policy analysis and will give a talk about what science policy is and how people with technical science backgrounds can get involved. He often runs workshops on problem solving in really interesting science questions for various groups, including government agencies and students. He gave an introduction to Science Policy and spoke about what work at RAND is like, how they hire and what to think about if you want to move into a career like working for RAND.

April visit to Washington DC

Science in a regulatory agency: Discussion with Dr. Andy Miller, US EPA Office of Research and Development

Thursday, April 6th

Being a scientist in a regulatory agency holds challenges unique in the scientific community. Such a position requires a clear understanding of the differences between science and policy, and requires that a scientist is continually aware of the need to protect and maintain her independence and objectivity. While scientists in the academic community have the freedom to make policy recommendations, researchers in a regulatory agency must stop short of advocating for particular policy choices, while at the same time conducting science that informs those policy choices. The line between informing and advocating is not always clear, especially as science becomes increasingly politicized. We discussed some of the sensitivities, challenges, and opportunities that come with doing science in a regulatory setting.

Dr. C.A. (Andy) Miller is the Associate Director for Climate with EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD) and represents EPA at the US Global Change Research Program. Most of his 26 years have been with ORD, where he conducted research on characterization and control of combustion-generated air pollution and on climate change impacts, adaptation, and mitigation. He also spent several months working for the Office of Air and Radiation on a regulation to control oxides of nitrogen from power plants. Andy has served as a team lead for PM research, and was Acting National Program Director for ORD’s PM research program. He received a B.S. and M.S. in mechanical engineering from the University of Arizona, and a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from North Carolina State University. He is currently located in the Southern California Field Office, part of EPA’s Region 9, but continues to work for ORD from Los Angeles.



Public engagement workshop for Scientists with Sense about Science USA

Friday, March 24th
Our Science Panelists discussed their experiences working with the media
Our Science Panelists discussed their experiences working with the media

We discussed the importance of public engagement by scientists, learned about the ethics and principles of science communication, and got to know the journalistic process. We also discussed how scientists can be more actively involved in public outreach.





Your personal choices and California water

Talk with Ling O’Connor

Wednesday, March 1st

Dr. O’Connor is a professor at Pasadena City College and an alumna of the USC Earth Sciences department, where she obtained her PhD.

How to Eat a Dinosaur: Science Policy and Poultry Production

Discussion with Nate Carroll

Thursday, Feb 16th

Nate is a graduate student in the Earth Sciences department and the Natural History museum studying vertebrate paleontology. We discussed the regulation of poultry as meat in the US, including the differences for housing chickens used for food versus egg production and the history of the chicken industry in the US.


Science and Trump’s Administration: AAAS Webinar screening

Thursday, January 26th

A continuation from where the post-election webinar left off, with topics including outlook for research funding and how the administration and Congress may view science-based policymaking.


The “STEM Crisis” and Science Policy: Discussion with Jennifer Miller, USC Professor of Public Policy

Wednesday, January 18th

IEEE Spectrum “The STEM Crisis Is a Myth.”

We discussed the scientific workforce, including a discussion about which fields in STEM have a surplus of PhDs and postdocs and differing definitions of the ‘postdoc problem’.


Talking to your congressional representative: Workshop with Frank Corsetti

Tuesday, Dec 6

If you are interested in trying to get a meeting with your rep’s office, you can start here. Most have a link in their website where you can request a meeting. Your representatives have staffers available to take your phone calls, meetings and concerns, so contact them!


COP21 and COP22 Discussion with Dr. Gibson

Wednesday, Nov 30th
What next steps have been taken after the Paris Agreement? What does Trump administration actually mean for climate progress in the US and globally?

We got the inside scoop on the Marrakesh (COP22) Climate Summit from Dornsife International Relations Prof. Shannon Gibson, who is an expert on environmental activism and was a participant in the Paris (COP21) climate talks last year.


AAAS webinar: “After the Election: What Now for Science Funding and Policy?

Monday, November 14th

You can still view it on your own here.



The History of Gene Patenting, and Remaining issues: Discussion group with Liana Engie

Thursday, October 27th

Up until 2013, naturally occurring genes (and entire genomes) could be patented in the US as long as they had been isolated. We discussed the process of finally ending this long standing practice (a very good science communication case study), how the global science community deals with patent differences in each country, arguments pro and con.

You can read this article or watch this quick YouTube video intro to know more about gene patenting.


Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration: Discussion with Lina Bird

Wednesday, October 12th

Lina Bird is a postdoc in the Nealson Lab (Departments of Earth/Biological Sciences) and a member of the Citizen’s Climate Lobby. The discussion focused on two papers: Lal, 2010, Managing Soils and Ecosystems for Mitigating Anthropogenic Carbon Emissions and Advancing Global Food Security, BioScience and the executive summary and introduction from Citizen’s Climate Lobby, 2014, The Economic, Climate, Fiscal, Power, and Demographic Impact of a National Fee-and-Dividend Carbon Tax. Thanks to Lina and everyone who attended!


First annual meeting of the Science Policy Group at USC

Friday, September 9th

We introduced the group’s goals and spoke about some past and upcoming events. Our faculty sponsor, Yael Wohlinksy-Nahmias, led a short discussion.

Merchants of Doubt Movie Screening

Monday, April 25
We screened the Merchants of Doubt movie (based on the book by Erik Conway and Naomi Oreskes), following the Earth Science department seminar by Erik Conway. The movie is short (~80min), fast-paced, and critically acclaimed. Check out the trailer:


Southern California air quality Seminar with Dr. Jim Fawcett

Friday, April 15

Air quality in the Los Angeles air basin has been a persistent problem since ancient times but with industrialization in the 20th Century it gradually became almost unbearable.  With federal clean air legislation as well as concomitant state legislation in the latter parts of that century, air quality has improved and so-called “criteria” air emissions have been markedly reduced.  Releases of volatile organic compounds in paints, auto emissions, industrial discharges, dry cleaning plants and a host of other emissions have been curbed to the point where, although the region still cannot meet federal ambient air quality standards, nevertheless the air is much cleaner.  One persistent source of emissions, however, has been difficult to manage: diesel emissions from foreign-flagged merchant ships, most of whom are powered by diesel engines and who heretofore have needed to use their auxiliary engines in port.  Now, joint action by the South Coast Air Quality Management District and the two seaports at Los Angeles (San Pedro) and Long Beach has resulted in a scheme to help resolve this significant source of diesel pollution and reduce its impact on a still-stressed air basin.  In this presentation we learned about the sources of marine air pollution, why it’s so difficult to resolve and what is being done via the Clean Air Action Plan that the ports and the AQMD have devised.

James Fawcett is the Director of Marine Science and Policy Outreach and Marine Transportation/Seaport Specialist for the Sea Grant Program at the Wrigley Institute, and an adjunct Professor in the schools of Public Policy and Environmental Studies at USC.

Harmful algal blooms: Discussion with Jayme Smith

Thursday, April 7

Phytoplankton serve an essential ecological role as the nutritional base of the pelagic food web in marine environments. While phytoplankton benefit higher trophic levels through carbon fixation, there are several phytoplankton species that can bloom and disrupt ecosystems through the production of toxins or other negative effects; these events are commonly known as harmful algal blooms (HABs). There are several noxious and toxic phytoplankton species known to be endemic to the Southern California Bight (SCB) region, including species of the diatom genus Pseudo-nitzschia spp., which produces domoic acid and Alexandrium spp., which produces saxitoxin (see Caron et al., 2010 for a comprehensive discussion of the toxic phytoplankton and their products found in the region). Large algal blooms, commonly referred to as “red tides”, are not a new occurrence in the SCB, rather, they have been documented in the area for over a century. However, toxic Pseudo-nitzschia blooms are a more recently described phenomena in the region, with regular toxic bloom events only being observed over the last decade. Last year, the largest algal bloom in over a decade occurred off the West Coast, spanning from Washington to California. We discussed the biology of the local HAB species, the ecological and economic problems caused by HABs, and the monitoring and research programs that exist to address these issues.

Related Reading:

HABs and California’s crab season

Toxins through the food web

NOAA Coastal Science reports on HABs and ocean oxygen depletion

Jayme is a PhD candidate at USC in the department of Marine and Environmental Biology.

Deforestation and the global carbon budget: Discussion with Eric Kleinsasser

Thursday, March 24

Over the course of the industrial revolution about one third of total anthropogenic carbon emissions has come from changes in land cover, primarily the degradation of forests or conversion of forest-land to cropland.  The net effects of deforestation and degradation are difficult to quantify, but can be constrained by synthesizing government records, satellite data, and modeling.  Although rates of change of land cover (deforestation) have held relatively steady in the tropics over the past two decades, forest degradation through logging and other practices has fluctuated significantly.  And in any case, even the most conservative modern assessments show deforestation still contributing to 10% of carbon emissions in the past 15 years.  We discussed the methods used in making these assessments, as well as public policy measures and proposals to reduce deforestation and reverse prevailing trends in land cover change.

For more on Deforestation and the global carbon budget, see Eric’s blog post.

Eric Kleinsasser is a graduate student at USC in the department of Earth Sciences

Seminar with Yael Wolinsky-Nahmias: Implications of the UN Conference on Climate Change (COP21)

Wednesday, February 24

Last December, 196 nations made voluntary, public commitments to cut their carbon emissions by varying degrees, with the hope of lowering the risk of catastrophic climate change. In this seminar we discussed the significance of COP21 and the challenges involved in the implementation of the agreement. We considered the extent to which COP21 represents a shift in international climate policy making, and the implications of such a shift for stabilizing the climate system.

Yael Wolinsky-Nahmias’s main research interests are in the area of environmental politics, multi-level climate change policy, and public attitudes and participation in environmental politics. She recently published a book titled Changing Climate Politics: U.S. Policies and Civic Action, and has written about game theoretic approaches to environmental policy, voters’ preferences on environmental issues, and public attitudes toward climate change.  She’s currently involved in research on paths of public participation in climate action in California.

Yael is a faculty member in the Environmental Studies Program and the department of Political Science at USC. She’s involved in curriculum development in both programs, and has recently created a new program for students interested in environmental policy and science internships, by designing specially tailored internships together with local government and non-governmental organizations.

Fracking Discussion with Audra Bardsley

February 12, 2016

From electricity generation to home heating, natural gas is an important component of America’s energy portfolio. Advances in directional drilling technology combined with hydraulic fracturing have vastly increased domestic production over the past decade. Proponents have lauded natural gas as a cleaner burning bridge fuel to energy independence, while opponents raise questions as to the human health and environmental impacts of extraction. We discussed social perceptions of hydraulic fracturing based natural gas production and active areas of scientific research.

For a fracking overview, we recommend the following articles:

Climate Change: A crack in the natural gas bridge

Natural Gas: Should fracking stop?

Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Quality interview with Avner Vengosh

Audra is a PhD candidate in the department of Earth Sciences at USC.

Science Policy Fellowship Panel Discussion

January 27, 2016

Our panelists—Dr. Karla Heidelberg (AAAS Fellow), Dr. Jessica Dutton (Knauss and Mirzayan Fellow), and Dr. David Ginsburg (Knauss Fellow)— shared their experiences in the programs and how their fellowships advanced their careers. Moderated by Sydney Fishman.

2016-01-27 16.29.49




Geoengineering Discussion with John Lawhead

December 4, 2015

Climate engineering involves the deliberate, large-scale manipulation of the global climate in order to reverse or mitigate some of the impacts of anthropogenic climate change.  It includes proposals as diverse as injecting particles into the upper atmosphere to increase the global albedo, brightening clouds over oceans, and putting giant mirrors into space, just like some kind of James Bond villain.  The debate tends to attract crazy people like little else (try searching the term on YouTube or something if you’re curious), and is fraught with ethical, political, and scientific challenges, all of which makes it great fun to talk about.

For a brief consideration of some of the issues, see Jon’s blog post.

-Jon Lawhead

Jon is a philosopher of science specializing in the foundations of climate science and complex systems theory. He is currently a postdoc at USC.

Discussion with Sydney Fishman: Societal and policy implications of El Niño in California

November 5, 2015

We discussed media coverage of El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the science behind it.

Sydney is a senior at USC majoring in environmental studies and minoring in earth sciences. She is the vice president of the Science Policy Group at USC.

Discussion with Megan Hall: the use of copper-based antifouling paints in Southern California boat harbors

October 22, 2015

Copper-based paints are used on boat hulls to deter growth of marine life. Copper is toxic, and in boat harbors is found in high concentrations via sloughing off from boats.

Media coverage:

Megan is a PhD candidate at USC in the department of Marine and Environmental Biology (MEB). She is the MEB liaison for the Science Policy Group at USC.

Contact us: scipol (at) usc (dot) edu

Cover image by Todd Jones. Some rights reserved.