Spring 2020 Alum interview: Patricia Stapleton

Patricia Stapleton (Ph.D., 2012) is a comparative political science and public policy scholar at RAND Corporation; her research focus is on the regulation of biotechnology in food production. Previously, she has served as an Assistant Professor of Political Science, and as Director of the Society, Technology, and Policy Program, at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI).

Max Fuerderer: Describe your work at the RAND Corporation. What are your responsibilities? 
Patricia Stapleton: Right now, I’m in a period that we call “acculturation,” and that can take anywhere from six months to a year, so I’m in month seven, and that’s really just getting to know how RAND works. So, what I do now is different from what I will be doing, but really what I’m doing is working and collaborating with other people at RAND on projects. It’s kind of like grant writing, although it’s not all grants. Some of them are contracts, but it’s a lot of thinking, reading, and writing out my ideas, and sorting out methods (I think of research design a lot here!). So, it’s a lot of the research side of academic work.
MF: You’ve previously worked in academia, and now work in the private sector. Was the transition difficult for you?
PS: In terms of my transition, it’s been relatively easy based on topic, because the organization has been relatively interested in topics revolving around science and technology and policy.
I began to pursue these topics, in greater depth, in my position at WPI. I was offering courses that were much more geared towards science and technology, and environmental policy and politics. The more I was at WPI, the stronger my focus in technology and science became.
MF: Your dissertation concerned biotechnology and the European Union, and that is very similar to your current work. Did you initially look for a position at RAND that was colloquial to your research?  
PS:  RAND reached out to me, actually! I haven’t asked the director specifically why, but he reached out to me in advance of APSA a few years ago because he saw the paper I was presenting which was on science, technology, and policy related to RAND’s interests. I think one of the things RAND was looking for were skills that would make me a good fit for the organization, and what I was going to do. Because I had previously been doing a lot of grant writing at WPI, that made me competitive for the position.
MF: You have been the recipient of numerous grants. Do you have any advice for any students aiming to obtain grants?  
PS: Getting grants is very difficult, and everyone should understand: you are going to fail a lot more than you will succeed. You do not know what the pool is. You do not know who you are competing against. It is a different kind of writing, and it really requires a team of people to get it right. Grant writing is not something that you should attempt to do all by yourself. I still have some of my cohorts at the grad center review some of my work, for clarity, so that’s another good bit of advice! So, even when you’re working on your own, still try and be part of a collaborative process, so that you can get feedback, which is very important. Persistence and resilience is key!
MF: Any fond memories or reflections on your time as a student at CUNY? 
PS:  I do have fond memories of my time at the GC! They all involved my peers. Spending time and developing relationships with other students (in Poli Sci and across departments) were critical to both my success at the GC and after I defended my Dissertation. I am glad I was able to organize and attend our departmental, DSC, and university events.