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Brandeis grad tackles both politics and science

By Dana Trismen

Section: Features

May 19, 2012

Frances Colón PhD ’04, who came to study neurobiology at Brandeis, has taken full command of her education, building on her talents outside the laboratory to earn her new job as deputy science and technology adviser to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Colón explained how the science and technology branch first “made its entrance during the cold war” originally “grouped under global affairs.” Now under President Obama, it falls under economic affairs. Here as well, Colón can merge her passions for science and politics. She believes “science and technology are tools to help countries around the world be innovators and gain prosperity.” She is a staunch supporter of the fact that “science and technology can help us find solutions to challenges around the world.”

These challenges vary, from handling the use of water to making infrastructure more efficient, but the common theme, as Colón describes it, is how science can help the United States bolster its position in a globalized world.

“Many countries come to us saying, ‘The United States confronted these technological challenges very well, how do we do that?’” Colón said in a phone interview this week. “‘How do we build up our science and technology resources, improve the science curriculum for our children?’” Colón views the world through a scientific lens, her area of study key to solving issues in the United States and also worldwide.

Colón spent seven years at Brandeis as a dedicated student, where she warranted the attention of Professor Susan Birren (BIO), who now serves as dean of arts and sciences. Colón worked in Birren’s lab, and eventually Birren recommended that she apply to be an AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow. Colón calls this honor a “competitive process,” in which “if you made it through, you were brought down to Washington D.C. to meet with a panel of policy experts” and the interviews continued on until Colón was eventually selected. After being selected to work on Muslim world outreach for the Secretary of State from 2006 to 2008, Colón has been continuously rising through the ranks. Her current position is her third in the State Department and is a career job that does not change, regardless of who is in office.

Specifically, Colón describes her new job as serving to “provide the best scientifically sound advice.”

“When decisions for foreign policy and the like are being made, they need the best possible information, about anything from climate change to fishing,” she said.

Regarding her future career plans, Colón shared her “big secret,” disclosing she “has always wanted to run for office and is hoping to one day be able to make that dream come true.” She describes this as a “long term goal,” and she believes she will start off in local politics.

For now, Colón is content with her position, describing how she is serving to carry out Clinton’s global vision. Colón characterizes Clinton as “a very busy lady,” commenting on how Clinton has many advisers and the goal is to “give her what she needs to know as fast as possible.” As a deputy adviser, it is normally Colón’s boss who serves to advise Clinton, but Colón has also occasionally served in his place.

At Brandeis, Colón said she had an “affinity” for doing activities outside the lab, be it arts events and festivals or involvement in the city. “[I] didn’t want to continue to do bench work, but wasn’t sure originally what I wanted to do,” she said.

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