After completing her PhD, Melody Tan pivoted to career on Capitol Hill

By Melody Tan

Introduce yourself and describe your work

I’m a Senior Policy Advisor in the U.S. House of Representatives and cover health, energy, environment, climate, science, space, and technology issues. My role includes taking meetings with constituents, reviewing policy requests, drafting letters and legislation, and staffing committee hearings.

What do you consider to be your most important career achievement or discovery?

I was determined to become more civically engaged after the 2016 election and am glad to have followed through with that commitment. This started with volunteering for campaigns and voter registration efforts throughout grad school and led to my career pivot from science and engineering to the Hill.

During times of imposter syndrome or feelings of discouragement, what or who helped you persevere?

During my PhD, my community from my political work helped keep things in perspective and reminded me there were more consequential problems than the success of my latest experiment. Now, fellow congressional staff are my sounding boards and provide support through frustrations and losses.

How does your work impact people and the world around us?

I am always working to move the needle—whether it’s talking to constituents to identify needs, building coalitions around proposals, using letters to call attention to issues, etc. Recently, I used my PhD experience to inform a bill addressing the financial instability of early-career researchers.

What is a unique fact about your career/industry?

It’s an extremely fast paced environment and congressional staff are constantly working behind the scenes to advance policy in different ways over the longer term—even if you aren’t immediately seeing bills signed into law.

What advice do you have for other women or nonbinary individuals considering this field?

Policy careers are very nonlinear and there are many different roles—so be proactive about reaching out for informational interviews and build your network. People are usually generous with advice and there’s a strong culture of paying it forward.