Caitlin Keating-Bitonti was the 2018–2019 GSA-USGS Congressional Science Fellow and has continued to work on the Hill as the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow at the U.S. Department of State Office of Global Change.
How would you describe your experience as a Congressional Science Fellow?
Working in the U.S. Senate as a Congressional Science Fellow was an incredibly fulfilling experience, and I appreciated being given the opportunity to serve my member’s constituents and the American people. Although there were some long, hard, and stressful workdays, I loved each minute of every day—my year on the Hill showed me how hard congressional staffers work to serve Americans. I also enjoyed stepping out of my research niche to advise broadly on science policy issues, satisfying my academic passion for continuing to learn new things.
What inspired you to work in both politics and geology?
At a young age I fell in love with fossils, which led me to pursue a research career reconstructing ancient environments using the fossil record. But through my research I became hyperaware that our current climate was on a frightening trajectory due to raising CO2 emissions. Thus, I wanted to shift my career focus so I could be in the room advocating for data-based policies, and advising the decision-makers on policies that help address the current climate crisis, protect the environment, conserve our public lands and their wildlife, and benefit the well-being of all American citizens. I believe my work in Congress helped to address aspects of all these important issues, which has further motivated me to pursue a career as a public servant working in the climate policy space. The GSA-USGS Congressional Science Fellowship gave me the experience and allowed me to make this seamless career transition.
What are you most proud of from your time as a Congressional Science Fellow?
I was most proud of having the opportunity and trust from my Senator, Tom Udall (D-NM), to incorporate science data and facts into pieces of legislation that I was working on. This trust also came from the many science fellows who served before me to help build our incredible reputation on the Hill. I also enjoyed taking advantage of being a scientist to reach out to academics and scientists outside my field of expertise (e.g., fire ecologists) to ask for their inputs on aspects of legislation that needed to be grounded by evidence. I think collaborating across disciplines comes very natural to geoscientists given how broad our field is, and it was fun to continue and build on this collaboration in the policy world.
Why should people support programs like GSA’s policy work?
Having a scientist’s voice in the room with decision-makers is invaluable. Geoscientists, in particular, take creative approaches to solving problems, and we have a natural willingness to collaborate with others on issues beyond our own expertise. My fondest memory from the Hill was when someone said how much they loved working with Congressional Science Fellows with geology backgrounds (and actually sought geoscience fellows out). I think members of Congress and their staffers notice how creative and flexible geoscientists can be in our work, given how our field touches on natural resources, energy, climate, oceans, natural hazards, past and current Earth processes and events, etc. Geoscientists can inform relevant pieces of legislation and beyond using our scientific approach.
What would you like to say to other people who give of their time and resources to GSA?
I am incredibly grateful to those who generously give their time and resources to GSA. I attended my first GSA Annual Meeting when I was 19 years old and have looked forward to every meeting since—I feel a true connection to this community. Over my career, GSA has supported my research through grants and awards, published my results in Geology, allowed me to serve on its committees and share my opinions, and also provided me with the opportunity to transition my career from research to science policy. I was honored to serve as the GSA-USGS Congressional Science Fellow and to represent the Society and the geosciences on Capitol Hill. Thank you all who have contributed to and supported GSA to help make these opportunities possible.
Caption: Caitlin Keating-Bitonti with U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) at the top of the Capitol.