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Engineering Ph.D. Student to Advise Policymakers on Capitol Hill

Ashley J. Williams, IEEE-USA Congressional Fellowship

Ashley J. Williams, a Ph.D. candidate in biomedical engineering, has received a Congressional Fellowship from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), giving her the opportunity to advise policymakers on Capitol Hill in the coming year.

As one of two IEEE-USA Congressional Fellows for 2022-2023, Williams will contribute to policy development and legislation creation either within a Congress member’s office or on a congressional committee. She will interview with congressional offices at the start of her fellowship in September and choose one that matches her policy interests.

“I am particularly interested in working on policies related to increasing scientific funding, ensuring ethical technology development and implementation, and maintaining cutting-edge scientific innovation in the United States,” said Williams, who is pursuing her Ph.D. in Assistant Professor Jonathan Viventi’s lab.

“I also look forward to contributing my scientific knowledge and skills to improving scientific understanding in legislation creation even beyond these policy areas.”

Williams, who began her Ph.D. studies in 2016, said her interest in science policy and ethics grew during her second year at Duke. Her doctoral research focuses on how different design elements of high-density neural arrays may affect the information captured from recordings from the brain. As that work progressed, she encountered questions around ethical neurotechnology development and use.

That led her to take a Bioethics and Science Policy course with Michael “Buz” Waitzkin, which then prompted her to pursue the M.A. in bioethics and science policy in addition to her Ph.D.

“In my coursework and practicum work, I was able to see firsthand how my background as a scientist impactfully contributed to discussions of policy and ethics. My graduate training was truly enhanced by the ethics and law coursework I took,” Williams said. “I began to realize I wanted to work on the forefront of science policy development during this time, and that is when I really started to make a plan to pursue the Congressional Fellowship and other science policy fellowships after my Ph.D.”

Tips for Future Applicants

“Intentionally explore your professional interests outside of your Ph.D. work while at Duke. Duke provides us incredible opportunities as Ph.D. students to engage in programs and training opportunities outside of our direct program. The ability to pursue a master’s degree in another field outside of my Ph.D. was unreservedly a career changing opportunity for me. I also took the chance to attend science policy workshops and get involved in ethics initiatives in engineering societies outside of Duke to fully embrace my interests. Finally, I encourage students to talk early and often with their advisors and mentors about their professional interests. My advisor, Dr. Jonathan Viventi, and my committee were incredibly supportive as I kept them informed of my interests in science policy and pursued my concurrent master’s degree. I think having a committee that can understand your professional interests and support those interests is truly essential.” — Ashley J. Williams