Doctoral Student Syed Earns National Academies Mirzayan Fellowship for Science and Technology Policy

July 8, 2021 – UC Irvine doctoral student Komal Syed has been selected as a 2021 Christine Mirzayan Science and Technology Policy Graduate Fellow by the National Academies. The fellowship is a full-time hands-on training and educational program that invites early career individuals to spend 12 weeks at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in Washington, D.C., learning about science and technology policy and the role that scientists and engineers play in advising the nation.

Syed is incredibly grateful to have been selected as a 2021 Mirzayan fellow. “The work of the National Academies is grounded in informing U.S. policy with scientific evidence, thus being a Mirzayan fellow would allow me to bridge the worlds of scientific research and public policy,” said Syed.

“Through this fellowship, I aspire to engage in the analytical processes that inform U.S. policy, enhance my leadership and communication skills, network with policy professionals, and gain better insights into the dynamic role of scientists in policymaking.”

Syed is in her final year as a doctoral candidate in materials science and engineering. Her research focuses on process-structure-property relations in ceramic materials exposed to extreme environments. Syed looks at how processing affects the structure of materials, which consequently controls their performance in real-world applications. Specifically, she studies the role of atomic-scale defects, such as interfaces, in ceramic materials for energy applications.

However, Syed is also interested in public policy, which aligns with the Mirzayan Fellowship. Last year, Syed’s advocacy on campus earned her the top prize for the UCI Elevator Pitch contest, sponsored by the UCI Graduate Professional Success in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (GPS-STEM) program. Her two-minute winning pitch focused on the benefits of guaranteed, subsidized child care for all UCI parents, which would benefit the entire university.

She has also completed a GPS-STEM certificate program in science policy and advocacy. “I am grateful to have Ph.D. advisers like Professors Martha Mecartney and Will Bowman who supported my interest in science policy; I completed this certificate program with their approval while also working on my research during the pandemic,” said Syed.

“I am inspired by Komal's consistent and hard work,” said Bowman, co-adviser and assistant professor of materials science and engineering. “I have enjoyed working and learning with her, and I am confident she will make the most of this opportunity. The National Academies made a great selection.”

“Komal developed a strong interest in policy during her graduate studies, and this is an incredible opportunity for her to work in Washington, D.C., at the National Academies,” added Martha L. Mecartney, co-adviser and professor of materials science and engineering. “I credit the environment at UCI that let her not only conduct top notch graduate research but also simultaneously explore her interests in public policy, while serving as an advocate for graduate student families."

Syed explained, “There is a need for more scientists to be involved in the legislative process of our country. This has become even more apparent in the face of the COVID-19 global pandemic. I believe it is important for scientists and engineers to be politically aware, engage with their local policymakers whenever possible and help shape what the future of our nation looks like.”

– Tonya Becerra