When one embarks on a journey of scientific research, there’s no telling what twists and turns the path may take. For Heather Drew, whose interest in infectious diseases was sparked as a child by the novel “War of the Worlds,’’ her road last year led from Gainesville to the Washington, D.C. office of then-Sen. Bill Nelson.
Drew, a graduate fellow in immunology and microbiology in the University of Florida College of Medicine, spent five weeks as an intern in Nelson’s office sharing her expertise on antibiotic resistance with senators and staffers. She said she learned firsthand the critical role researchers and scientists can play in helping to craft national policy, a career interest of hers for many years.
“This internship was an opportunity for me to marry my research with the developing field of science policy,” Drew said. “I’ve seen a lot of gaps among policy, science and the public. This is going to be a growing problem that students and future researchers must change.”
Drew was taking part in a National Institutes of Health-sponsored training program in basic microbiology and infectious disease headed by David Bloom, PhD, a professor in the UF College of Medicine’s department of molecular genetics and microbiology. She traded the lab bench for a seat at the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, where she sat in on meetings with constituents from across the nation.
“We essentially served as a sounding board and tried to integrate their feelings and concerns to develop legislation reflective of their needs,” she said.
Drew’s duties also included drafting several congressional memos for Nelson, including one about the impact of climate change on human health. Nelson, a Democrat, lost his re-election bid in November to Florida Gov. Rick Scott.
“I wanted to highlight the fact that if we don’t take preventive measures to increase the resiliency of our environment, it’s going to impact human health,’’ she said.
Drew was pleased to note that politicians on both sides of the aisle appeared supportive of her work.
“I think people like to polarize environmental issues as not being a concern of both parties, but human health should be a nonpartisan issue,” she said. “Taking varying approaches to maintain human health is going to be necessary for the future.”
This story originally ran in the Summer 2019 issue of the Doctor Gator newsletter.