Interview with Samata Katta, PhD: Sharing Her Experiences During ASHG’s Fellowship Program

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By: Meena Radhakrishnan, MD 

ASHG and NHGRI have collaborated to offer fellowship programs for physicians, postgraduates, and PhDs to provide insight into a few genetics programs to support their further education or work in academia or research. For this Nascent Transcript, Dr. Samata Katta answers questions about her experiences in fellowship program offered by ASHG-NHGRI.

MR: What type of Fellowship programs does ASHG provide? Can you briefly explain your program? 

SK: ASHG provides fellowships in multiple areas including policy making, Genetics Education and Engagement Fellowship, and Genomics Communications Fellowship. The one I have personal experience with is the Genetics and Public Policy Fellowship, which allows fellows to rotate through ASHG, NIH, and a position on Capitol Hill.

MR: Do fellows work at sites or just gain theoretical experience? 

SK: The Genetics and Public Policy Fellowship provided me with firsthand experience working on the scientific policymaking process from three different angles: legislative work, agency-level funding and policy, and nonprofit advocacy. In my rotation with the Senate HELP Committee (Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) during the early pandemic, I learned how much more complicated it is for a bill to become a law than Schoolhouse Rock makes it seem, but I also had the opportunity to contribute my growing expertise to various bills, whitepapers, and memos. Working at NHGRI, I gained a more in-depth knowledge of the process of science funding, from appropriations to grants, and helped the institute report on how taxpayer dollars were being spent. Finally, at ASHG, I developed materials for Congressional meetings, gaining a better understanding of the role that nonprofit and advocacy organizations play in voicing the concerns of their members and leading thinking on forthcoming technical and policy issues.

MR: What type of skill sets did you gain during and after completion of the fellowship? 

SK: While my science writing skills were strong when I came into the fellowship, each of my rotations gave me opportunities to learn how to think and write about science policy issues for different audiences from Senators to scientists and the public—and with different goals in mind. This also gave me the ability to more quickly break down and understand the nuances of the different types of policy and legislative language I run across regularly in my current job. I’d also say, there is no substitute for being immersed in the convoluted rules of the Senate or House to teach you what is happening in the legislative process when an important bill is at play. Finally, by placing me in each of these three policy arenas, the fellowship helped me build a network of contacts with a broad range of expertise that I could turn to when I needed to expand my knowledge for particular areas of my job.

MR: What type of job opportunities are available after the completion of the program? 

SK: Past policy fellows have gone into a variety of health and science policy careers. Some have continued working on Capitol Hill, while others worked at government agencies like NIH or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), professional societies, advocacy organizations, academic institutions, healthcare organizations—all building on the three sides of the policymaking process they experienced during their fellowship rotations. In my case, I found a position at the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. While this position is less focused on genetics specifically, I have been able to use that knowledge when particular genetics-related bills or policies have come our way. What excites me every day, though, is that my work helps to support a variety of innovative training and research capacity building programs that help build up diversity in science in many ways.

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