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Cornell University


Tuesday, April 17, 2018
MIT Policy Hackathon

BEST Advisory Board member, Celine Cammarata, PhD student in Developmental Psychology and science policy enthusiast, saw an opportunity and went to work. She solicited interest, formed a Cornell group to attend the MIT Policy Hackathon, planned the trip, and gathered financial and other resources to support her endeavor. Interest was far greater than expected, with Cornell able to form two full teams plus an additional individual who joined another team.

This group of 12 graduate students and one postdoc was as diverse and as enthusiastic as groups come: Andrew Sanchez, Chemical Engineering, Kathleen Hefferon, Postdoc in Food Science, Jeffrey Sward, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Joseph Long, Biomedical Engineering, Najva Akbari, Applied Physics, Gloria Cao, Master's in Applied Economics and Management, Ryan Badman, Physics, Vektesh Katkar, Marie Zwetsloot and Juana Munoz Ucros, Horticulture, Ankur Biswas, Maurice Jakesch. (BESTies in bold).  Read on to see what this experience meant to them.

"I can confirm that a) everyone had an amazing experience b) we learned a lot and got otherwise impossible insight into how policy is shaped c) we made a lot of new peer connections with overlapping interests. A huge success!" -C. Cammarata

"The MIT Policy Hackathon was an amazing learning experience. We faced a surprising, challenging problem that affects people right now. Working as a team, we brainstormed innovative policy solutions and compiled meaningful deliverables for relevant industry experts. The experience was definitely intense and exhausting--not least because we were exposed to the frustrations of working with incomplete, real-world data--but I think that only served to hammer home the message of the difficulty of these tasks. 

We also enjoyed presentations from prominent science policy thinkers (one from Tufts and another from MIT), as well as from the company Palantir. The latter, in particular, was fascinating and provided insights into careers and work being done today that I wasn't previously aware of. I'm hoping to take advantage of the these contacts and the many lessons I gleaned from this experience in the very near future."- A. Sanchez

"It has been a wonderful experience for me at the MIT Hackathon. I worked with my team and delivered a 3-min pitch along with a written proposal regarding a data analysis for an energy policy at Boston city. I felt this experience extremely meaningful in that it highly connected to my education and professional experience. I also appreciate the support from BEST program and the coordination of BEST committee member. Thank you for making this happen!" -G. Cao

"I had a fabulous time with team members working on policies to make Boston carbon neutral by 2050." -K. Hefferon

"I went to the MIT Policy Hackathon with no experience in policy making whatsoever. I was in a group of scientists and engineers who were in the same shoes as me and we grew to develop a great team dynamic when trying to solve policy related issues. We persevered through the experience and discovered some of the qualities that scientists need to drive data based policy decisions. Examples of this include communicating to policy makers in a way that caters to the types of decisions they have to make, using visual representation that is easy to follow, and having constant discussion about ways to improve current policy based on data. Ultimately, I learned what it takes to not only look at data and come up with solutions for current issues, but also implement those solutions in a way that minimizes bias, provides security upon enacting, and legitimately considers all stakeholders involved. This experience exposed me to like-minded individuals who are driven to help make an immediate impact in their communities using scientific principles they have developed in their careers and the challenges in implementing science based policy." -J. Long

"The biggest takeaway message for me was that policy needs to be analyzed in order to really have impact. If you cannot measure the effects that your decisions are having, you cannot differentiate between good and bad policy. Monitoring thus needs to be taken into account when designing policy, so that the data you collect are actually useful down the road. 

It was also very rewarding to see how thorough a job one can do under pressure, with a good team of hardworking people, and in the right environment. We definitely learned a lot about data management, communication between disciplines, and delivering a concise but complete message in under 3 minutes. Not to mention our crash course in the complexities of building codes, the greater Boston area transportation system, the cost of diapers, and the vulnerabilities of personal data at every level!" - J. Munoz Ucros

"I learned how to apply my data analysis skills in a different setting and it was fun to work with people from different disciplines. I did not have a good idea of what it would be like to work in policy and the event gave me new insights about future career options." -M. Zwetsloot

"It was an amazing experience for me, our team won the prize for our track and moreover, the sheer exposure I got to MIT IDSS through interacting with the students there as well as other participants was extremely helpful. Similarly the opportunity I got to not only work with my teammates who were extraordinarily talented people but also form meaningful connections with them was priceless. I am more than satisfied with my experience with the MIT policy data hackathon and looking forward to participate next year as well!" -V. Katkar