As a scientist with a background in biotechnology, it’s been pretty easy to ignore the role government played in my career. I spent a lot of time as a student, where my energy was best spent studying. After I finished training, I joined a small biotechnology startup, where my time was best spent doing experiments and problem solving, turning science into useful products. Both as a student and as a professional, I chose to focus entirely on innovations and the technical subject matter on which they are based.
It’s because of this narrow and deep focus that it was easy to take government for granted. However, with more time spent in the tech startup world, I saw that policies set in Washington were in some part always influencing what tech entrepreneurs can and can’t do, will and won’t do.
Need to staff a company that uses robotics to automate diagnostics for personalized medicine? Then we need an education system that produces individuals with solid science and engineering backgrounds. Want to have robust competition in the market for advanced gene therapies? Then we need to encourage market entry with safety regulations that are clear and able to adapt to rapid technological change. Want the powers and resources of government to accelerate the pace of innovation? Then we need to change the narrative that technology and government are adversarial.
It’s because of this last need that I’m excited to spend 2018 as a Congressional Innovation Fellow. The premise of the fellowship—to bridge the divide between DC and Silicon Valley in a way that brings better outcomes for both—assumes that there can exist a collaborative relationship between the tech sector and Congress. I believe this is true. By embedding myself in Congress for a year, I hope to learn what that collaboration should look like.