Alumni Profiles Series: Amy Hafez

 January 17, 2024

Amy Hafez is a Health Science Policy Analyst at the NIH Office of Science Policy, where she shapes biomedical research policies. In her multifaceted career, Dr. Amy Hafez seamlessly integrates scientific expertise with a passion for effective science communication and policy.  Amy's dedication to science policy and advocacy is evident in her prior roles, including service as a Health Policy Fellow for U.S. Senator Tina Smith and a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California, San Francisco's Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education. As a graduate student, Amy co-founded the Duke Science Policy Interest Group, fostering informed discussions on science-related legislation among students and was actively involved with the Duke Initiative for Science and Society. Following graduate school, Amy served on the Duke Board of Trustees as a Young Trustee. She received a B.S. from Salisbury University, an M.S. in biotechnology from Johns Hopkins University, and a Ph.D. in molecular genetics & microbiology from Duke University.

Can you talk about your journey from finishing your Ph.D. to your current role?

I graduated from Duke with my Ph.D. in 2018, and afterwards I immediately shifted gears into a health  science policy career path. I started by doing a postdoctoral fellowship, but rather than doing a traditional biomedical research postdoc, I did a health policy postdoc at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) in the center for Tobacco Control Research and Education. That was quite a jump for me because I had come from studying viral oncology at a fundamental science research level during my Ph.D. and then shifted gears toward thinking at a higher level and focusing on policy research. The tobacco control research program at UCSF is highly interdisciplinary and offered an amazing opportunity for researchers from all backgrounds to apply their training to policy-oriented research while learning about the history of tobacco control. It was interesting to be a part of a truly interdisciplinary program. I saw how so many different research backgrounds can come together to address an issue and actively engage directly with local, state, and federal governments using research evidence to impact policy.

From there, I took that expertise to the federal government, where I began as AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow. I initially started in 2019 as a congressional fellow and served as a health policy fellow for U.S. Senator Tina Smith. It was right at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic so we initially were working on a wide range of issues, but then quickly changed gears toward the COVID-19 pandemic and making sure that a number of policy measures were in place to rapidly respond to the pandemic. In 2020, I continued my AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowship at NIH in the Office of Science Policy, where I now continue to work as a health science policy analyst in the Scientific Data Sharing Policy Division.

What are some effective strategies for communicating complex scientific concepts to the public or policymakers?

This takes a lot of practice, and I think I'm going to be developing that skill probably for the rest of my life. But I think that the more that you are able to practice talking to literally anybody outside of the scientific community, even your neighbors and your friends, about the work that you're doing, if you're able to speak to them in a way that they understand, then you're able to communicate to any policymaker about the work that you're doing. I think through my experience so far, I learned that the best way to relay information is through stories. A lot of the time, stories are what get the message across, and relating research to information that people are familiar with can help bridge that gap between the science that we communicate with other scientists and the science that needs to get across to the public in our communities.


Are there any mentors or experiences from your time at Duke that had a lasting impact on your career?

I couldn't have the career that I have in science policy without a career in science first and being trained in science. My graduate school advisor, Dr. Micah Luftig, was an incredible advisor. Every day, I draw on my experiences in the research that we did to think through policies. Having had the training in such a positive way through my advisor was a crucial experience for me. But beyond that, I also was able to find a fantastic secondary advisor in Buz Waitzkin, and the Duke Initiative for Science and Society. This program coming online at the beginning of my graduate school career was just the best timing. I enjoy taking the science a little bit further and thinking about how it impacts society, how it interacts with society, and how society interacts with it. I realized through this program and working with Buz that thinking about the engagement between science and the community is actually something that I want to invest my time and my life in.

What are your long-term career goals, and how do you plan to achieve them?

I hope to build on what I’ve learned about science policy research, development, and implementation and further develop skills in science communication and consensus building, which are both crucial to science policy and tackling emerging issues. I have really enjoyed working at NIH in the Office of Science Policy and having the opportunity to contribute to developing policies to promote appropriate scientific data management and sharing while still engaging with the academic community. I hope to continue to foster those connections and help build stronger bridges between academic experts and science policy to not only promote evidence-based policy development but also to build a stronger scientific research enterprise.

What advice do you have for current graduate students or early-career researchers interested in pursuing a similar path in science policy advocacy?

For Ph.D. students, get as much experience as you can while you're a graduate student, working with either programs that are science policy-minded more directly, like the Duke Initiative for Science and Society, or even engaging with the Duke Government Affairs Office, for example. Basically, learn from the people who are doing it whether or not this is a career path that you could see yourself doing every day. The more that graduate students talk to people who are working in science policy or advocacy, the more they'll learn about what opportunities exist and how best to transition to working in, for example, policy research, development, or advocacy. I know that it's not always easy with a busy schedule, especially when you're at the end of graduate school and you have to write a dissertation, defend, publish, and there's a lot going on. It's a very stressful period. The earlier you start, the better it is.


Paris Brown image
Paris Brown

Ph.D. student, Biomedical Engineering

Paris Brown is a second-year Ph.D. student in the Biomedical Engineering Department. She is a Sloan Scholar as well as a Dean’s Graduate Fellow. Her research focuses on using cerebral organoids and organ-on-a-chip technology to study neuroinflammation. Paris is passionate about advocating for DEI initiatives within the STEM community as well as working towards neurotech and AI policy. In her free time, she likes to explore state parks, create pottery, and watch scary movies.