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Amit Mistry wins Congressional science fellowship

September 04, 2008 20:33 IST
Amit Mistry, an alumnus of Rice University, has been selected as the Materials Research Society/Optical Society of America Congressional Science and Engineering Fellow for 2008-2009.

The prestigious fellowship, given to only one person each year, requires the selected fellow to provide technical insight and bring external perspectives to the government's decision-making processes while gaining public policy experience and discovering new ways to facilitate science-government interactions.

"It's very exciting. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I feel very fortunate for the chance to work in the government in this capacity," Mistry, who earned a PhD in bioengineering in 2007, told India Abroad.

Beginning September, Mistry will spend a year working as a special legislative assistant on the staff of a member of Congress or a Congressional committee.

Mistry, whose major policy interests are in promoting health research and education, says through the fellowship he hopes to help bridge the science–policy divide and influence education by attracting more young people to science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

He notes that government funding for health research over the past few years has barely increased and has not kept up with the rising costs of doing research, because of which young investigators are having an incredibly difficult time getting grants and many researchers are passing up high-risk, high-reward research for more traditional and safe projects.

Mistry, who hopes to be involved in global health, international development, energy and environmental issues, feels that now more than ever, scientists need to think beyond laboratory research and be engaged in science policy.

"I am learning that scientists and policy-makers often don't understand each other. Through my experiences, I have gotten better at communicating scientific information to non-scientists like my parents and wife. I'm also learning a lot about how our government works. So, I hope to help bridge that gap," Mistry said.

Mistry said Rice University has given him a solid understanding of cutting-edge technologies like nanobiotechnology and tissue engineering, and also taught him how to effectively communicate scientific works to various audiences. He envisions using these skills to promote the significance of scientific findings so that policymakers and the public understand the pathways toward truly innovative research.

"Scientists often focus heavily on their own work. The federal budget is getting tighter and tighter, so scientists need to do a better job of communicating the importance of their work to the general public as well as policy-makers in Washington," Mistry said.

His goals to address social and political issues and to find better ways to link scientific research and the decision-making process began through his participation in events at Rice's James A Baker III Institute for Public Policy.

Mistry, who has always been interested in education and enjoyed all things related to science, said as far as education is concerned he hopes to work on projects that encourage more kids to study science and engineering.

"My parents taught me to value education and appreciate all the opportunities I am blessed with. I know that not everyone is as fortunate, and I want to do all I can to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to get a strong education," Mistry said. "I have always thought science is cool. I just hope to get more people to appreciate it the way I do."

Mistry's ambition to serve as an educator, leader and proponent of science and technology started crystallizing around 2000, when following his graduate degree he worked in conjunction with Teach for America as a chemistry, physical science and algebra teacher at Marion Abramson Senior High School in New Orleans.

Teach for America is a network of about 17,000 young educators committed to expanding educational opportunities for children in low-income communities. He said that teaching in Louisiana was an 'incredible experience' through which he became committed to improving science education.

For the past year, Mistry has been tracking policy and funding issues and studying the economic impact of health research at Research! America, the nation's largest not-for-profit public education and advocacy alliance.

Refusing to be drawn into a political debate, Mistry said both Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain, the Democratic and Republican candidates for President, "seem somewhat committed to enhancing research. But with a tighter budget and a slow economy, it will be tough to devote more funding to research. I'm excited to see what will happen with the next administration," he said.

Mistry, who was born to Gujarati parents in Houston, said he remains an optimist. "I believe we will find cures for cancer, a vaccine for AIDS, and we will implement changes to curb global warming," he said of his vision for the future. "The question is how long it will take to accomplish these things. As for myself, I am interested in education and policy and I hope to find a career where I can be involved in both."

He recently married Jigna Dalal, an attorney from Houston; the couple lives in Washington, DC.
Suman Guha Mozumder