Raaj Mehta, 2010, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

“Over the summer, I worked at the Center for the Study of the Presidency, an advocacy organization in the lobbying K St corridor of Washington.  With the conclusions from our discussions in April and May in mind, I set out to better understand the politics behind HIV/AIDS.  It was much sooner than I’d expected that I found myself knee-deep in data about the epidemic, shockingly not from abroad, but rather, from right under our nations’ lawyers’ noses in the District of Columbia. ” 

“I was riding the Washington Metro on my way home to Virginia when I noticed that I was staring at a public service announcement poster calling for more DC youths to get tested for HIV.  The next morning, I was back in the office google-ing the project, and as soon as I discovered that 1 in 20 people live with the disease in the city, I told my boss, Dr. Susan Blumenthal, that I had come up with a research project for myself.  She was more enthusiastic than I could have ever imagined, giving the amazing opportunity to publish my thoughts (under her name, with my name listed as the second author).  

I could go into a lot of detail about what happened between then and the publication date because I gained a tremendous amount of very practical knowledge like developing better policy writing skills, how to communicate with no-nonsense government officials, how to communicate with nonsense government officials, etc. But, I’ll stop there, and list my four big epiphanies from working on this project: 1) statistics and ethnography must be in equilibrium; 2) politics almost always make things messier and more confusing than needed; 3) community health programs are vital regardless of where you are, including the US; and 4) HIV/AIDS scientists are remarkably sanguine. ” 

“This op-ed only was about 25% of my summer, however.  Another 25% was dedicated to investigating the Presidential hopefuls’ health care plans, and particularly to how well they will deal with people with AIDS.  In case you were wondering, it’s indisputable that Barack Obama has a better plan than John McCain for HIV/AIDS patients (and if you ask me, for everything else except choice).  Also, during this part of the summer, I spent some time helping a colleague write a policy brief on the status of AIDS in Asia. “

“I spent the third quarter working on the Palestinian Israeli Health Initiative, the health project that the Center was commissioned to investigate.  This essentially was a large social experiment testing the validity of health diplomacy, or using health to bring people closer together.  Not only did we have to do research for a report, but I spent a lot of time trying to create a WebMD/CDC.gov type site with health information for both Arabic and Hebrew speaking populations.” 

“The last 25% of the summer was spent researching tobacco, specifically concerning the possible FDA regulation of the substance.  Dr. Blumenthal asked me to write another op-ed, but it hasn’t been published yet.  Look out for it in October or November. “