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Diplomacy in Action

American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology Policy Fellow Interview: Gautham Venugopalan, Ph.D.

Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
April 22, 2014


Gautham Venugopalan, Ph.D.

Foreign Affairs Officer

Office of Science and Technology Cooperation

Here at the State Department, I work on, basically, what’s called science diplomacy. What that means is that we use science for diplomacy to build relationships with other countries, and help our scientists collaborate with other researchers that work in other countries -- and also, diplomacy for science, which is where we help reduce the barriers to helping our scientists get access to the best facilities, and the best teams, and the best people, so that they can continue to be leading in the worldwide scientific community.

I think the things that I’ll benefit the most from are really being able to communicate to a lot of different stakeholders and a lot of different types of audiences. For example, the way you talk about doing science research to somebody at the National Science Foundation or at their foreign counterparts is very different from the way you talk about science with someone who is an economist or someone who is working on science outreach and education - just being able to understand where all those different people are coming from, and understand the diversity of thought that makes creative designs, and makes new science, technology, and innovation move forward.

Innovation is a pretty important part of our economic development portfolio and our scientific enterprise. Being able to use it in diplomacy is really valuable, both for us, and for our foreign partners. What it really means is being able to take your science and technology inventions and discoveries, and being able to turn them into applied ideas, and making the new creative technologies: the next penicillin, or the next polio vaccine, but also the next microchips, and the next Facebook and Google. Those things come from science and technology research and commercializing that and making things go global like that is a really important thing for the United States.

Scientist-to-scientist dialogue is important because it builds international relationships and it gives us diversity of perspectives. The best design teams have diverse perspectives: they have engineering designers, they have MDs, they have anthropologists, musicians, and ballet dancers – they bring in all these different people to be more creative – and that’s what the top firms in industry are doing. That’s what, at least from a scientific research perspective, we can help bring to the table: Helping these scientists connect with other scientists. If you have that diversity of thought, then you can really get more creative ideas that lead to better innovations for the entire world.

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