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In Conversation with Boston's Deans of Policy 

October 10-11, 2019 marked Boston’s third annual Science Diplomacy Workshop convened by Professor Maria Ivanova and Dean David Cash at UMass Boston in collaboration with MIT, Tufts, and Boston University. Professor Paul Berkman and Professor Lawrence Susskind held the first workshop at Tufts in 2017 and the second at MIT in 2018. This year, the intellectual gathering took place at the UMass Club in downtown Boston and drew diverse participants from New England to Canada, ranging from doctoral students to professors, and working on topics from dark matter to the world’s water crisis.

A new addition to the workshop was the Global Policy Lunch, where participants had the opportunity to interact with the Deans of Boston’s policy schools. Beth Clevenger, senior acquisitions editor at MIT Press, moderated the debate among Dean David Cash of the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at UMass Boston, Dean Rachel Kyte of The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and Dean Adil Najam of the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University.

During the session, the Deans highlighted their experience in science diplomacy and offered advice to participants seeking to spearhead political change in their respective fields. A major topic of discussion was considering the way we think about science, politics, and their interaction. In earlier sessions, workshop participants from the United States and abroad noted their desire to take their passion and scientific expertise into the hallways of their governments; however, politics sometimes felt like “the enemy” - stifling scientific progress.

Dean Najam emphasized the importance of not viewing politics as the source of the problem. “Even if the practice of politics is not doing what we want it to do,” he said, “that does not mean that the act of politics is a bad thing. The act of politics has to be taken back.” Furthermore, he noted that good decision-making relies on getting both the politics and the science right, as sometimes “scientization” of an issue can also be problematic.

Bridging divides is critical, noted Dean David Cash. Providing examples of dealing with the insider-outsider conflict from his own dissertation research, he reiterated the importance of listening and empathy when practicing science diplomacy. He concluded, “The more we think about understanding interests, the more that we listen, the more that we are aware of where people are coming from, the better our prospect is in being successful in whatever endeavor we are trying to accomplish.”

Dean Rachel Kyte, recently named one of Time Magazine’s Top 25 Most Influential Women on Climate Change, discussed the importance of understanding differences between optimism and hope in influencing political outcomes. “Optimism is actually a passive state. Hope is understanding that we have agency, and we will put ourselves in the middle of the fight and will work to make a better state.” In response to those who felt trapped by their countries’ political atmospheres, she noted, “As an academic, as an influencer, you are engaged in the practice of hope. You should hold onto that because hope is deeply empowering…At this moment in the world, where things feel like they are fraying at the edges, that’s where you find your core strength… that’s where real leadership is practiced.”

Beth Clevenger urged the three deans to reflect on their experiences with success and failure. Opening the discussion, Dean Cash stressed that “failure” can be seen in a positive respect if we are willing to learn from it, citing an example of his efforts to implement a clean energy project while at Massachusetts’s State Government. Dean Kyte advocated the importance of resilience, citing examples from her efforts to push progress towards zero emissions in the lead-up to the UN Climate Summit and for green capital during her time at the IMF during the global financial crisis of 2008. She remarked, “The point is that the battle is never over. It’s like whack-a-mole. You have to keep at it.” Building on the topic of resilience, Dean Najam stressed the importance of not confusing emotional support with real action. He noted, “We live in the age of rage. To be proper, you have to be angry at something. That sometimes worries me regarding our climate - that anger sort of substitutes for action.” Additionally, he encouraged participants to “learn to celebrate small successes.”

The session concluded with the panelists proffering advice to participants grappling with the right career fit – whether it be in government, academia, NGOs, or somewhere that perhaps does not yet exist. Dean Kyte, who recently made a career shift from an international climate policy expert to the Dean of The Fletcher School, commented on the importance of self-awareness and self-sustainability. She said, “One important thing that often gets overlooked is how do you want to be in the world? What do you want your day to look like? You can be part of change; you can be part of progress. [And] there are many, many different ways to do that with the skills and the talents that you’ve developed…At the end of the day, any policy, any law, any administrative procedure is going to require someone to do something differently than they were going to do without your interaction. You won’t be able to make that happen if you are not sustaining yourself.”

Building on Dean Kyte’s remarks, Dean Cash closed the discussion by reflecting on his professional journey and noting the importance of “taking risks and jumping at opportunities that might be out of your comfort zone to explore.”

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