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Where Are They Now? Dr. Chanel Matney Discusses Her Path from Research!America Intern to Program Officer at NASEM

Research!America relies on interns and fellows, whose skills drive our mission forward. In this new blog series, we are catching up with previous interns and fellows to see how Research!America impacted their career, helped them build transferable skills, and network with experts in the science research landscape. 

Chanel Matney, PhD, is a program officer for the Forum for Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM). She joined Research!America after completing her PhD at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Since her time as the Communications Intern at Research!America in 2017, she has had an extensive career. Dr. Matney has certainly left an impact from her work at national security think tanks, the Department of Defense (DoD), serving on state government legislative committees, and now at NASEM. As a program officer, she supports a forum of sponsoring stakeholders that look at TBI and what can be done, collectively, across stakeholders, medicine, research regulators, and advocates to advance TBI research and TBI care. Prior to joining the Forum on TBI, Chanel supported NASEM’s closely related Forum on Neuroscience and Nervous System Disorders. Outside of her engagement with forums, Chanel manages programs for a handful of other hoc activities in NASEM’s health sciences policy unit – including undersea medicine research and emerging reproductive technology.  

Here are some highlights from our conversation with Dr. Matney. 

Interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

What made you choose Research!America for an internship? 

“I knew a lot of people that had gone through the [internship] program – colleagues and other grad students – that I respected and that shared my interest in policy, advocacy, and comms and they spoke positively about it. I trusted that I could have a meaningful experience that would set me up well for the next [career] step. Also, I was attracted to the organization’s proximity to D.C. and the opportunity to represent Research!America, which is a high value, well branded organization in the halls of Congress.” 

What were some of the projects that you had during your time at Research!America? 

“I supported their social media campaigns, program management, and the event coordination of a big fundraiser. I would live tweet a talk and pull quotes or ask questions of the audience and start conversations. I also learned how to time tweets for maximum effectiveness. Then my capstone was a webpage – I thought it was really wonderful. The webpage was on medication-assisted treatment for opioid substance use disorder, debunking misconceptions, and advocating for this approach as being highly effective in treating opioid substance use disorder. It was a one-page infographic like the Research!America fact sheets. That was fun – I was proud of that work.” 

Did you work with teams outside of the communications department at Research!America as the communications intern? 

“Yes, I worked with the policy and advocacy team very closely. There was a project with a stakeholder group of nurse researchers, and they wanted help with an advocacy packet to promote the value of nurse-led research. They gave us data that I organized into an aesthetically-pleasing sheet. I also analyzed survey results.” 

Can you briefly talk about what you have been up to since your time at Research!America? 

“Institutionally, where I went was a DOD think tank in Arlington called the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies. I studied supply chain for advanced microelectronics. I was managing a project helping to advise the Office of the Secretary of Defense Research Engineering on what we can do to reinforce our supply chain of microelectronics. In addition, [we would] think about how quickly technology is evolving. What are the geopolitical implications? What are the science policy implications? What government agency, whether it exists or not, would we need to be created to support these protections? That job was really influential because I fell in love with this topic of emerging science for national security.” 

“After I left the think tank, I came to California, for a year-long policy fellowship with the California Council of Science and Technology. My thinking to that point was, I’ve been an advocate to government, then I was a contractor for government. What if I was in government? [This program] takes PhD-level scientists and engineers and it gives them a boot camp on how bills become laws and then you’re matched with an office; it can either be a personal office or a committee. That committee analyzes bills relevant to their theme. And your job is to read the language, [find the] data to say that this is going to have the impact and write an analysis.” 

“After I finished the fellowship, I went to the Transportation Committee. I’m not an expert in transportation, [just like] I wasn’t in education nor microelectronics, but it wasn’t about the topic. I think this is an interesting point for your audience, that it really wasn’t about the topic. It was about learning how to think, learning how to approach a policy problem and how to understand the policy problem from the perspective of different stakeholders. Whether that’s the lobbyist, the member, the advocate, or the defense agency, they all have different needs from policy. It’s also about learning how to be a professional that can serve that need.” 

“Then the National Academies had an opening in the Forum for Neurosciences! I was super enthusiastic in the interview, and I said, “I really want this.” So, I got hired and now I’ve been at the Academies ever since.” 

In what ways did your internship at Research!America prepare you for those positions?  

“Research!America trained us on how to give quick pitches on our mission, which is essentially a brief to a high-level executive; presenting professionally, speaking with poise, feeling comfortable being a spokesperson for your issue, for your organization. Although I was “just an intern,” Mary Woolley did a good job of motivating us and we (interns) felt like we were part of this mission, doing important work, and we mattered. That motivation for a young, professional figuring themselves out, it’s really important that you feel you’re actually making a difference. They were also very patient with my mistakes; you’re there to learn from the other people who are smart in their area.” 

What drives you to stay in the science space where you can still be an advocate and do research? 

“I’m motivated by working with like-minded individuals that share a value. The value being evidence-based policy to improve the common good, to address inequity, and to further a prosperous and healthy society. I find that endlessly motivating. Also, impact, a sense of duty. I feel like I’m doing good for the world while also enjoying myself. The fact that the work matters. The idea that science is public service. There are scientists that are in the lab generating data and scientists helping to translate that data into an action, whether that’s a new policy, law, norm, committee, or funding priority.” 

Is there anything else you would like to share about your time at Research!America or your career path? 

“Don’t be afraid to try new things. In fact, it can really help you grow to get out of your comfort zone. Graduates, when they’re fresh out, really underestimate their own capabilities. What I quickly learned is that we’re really good at learning […] at teaching ourselves, figuring out what’s important, thinking, and asking questions. You can do that anywhere and supervisors realize that so, I really want graduate students to recognize their value. Owning your power, feel confident in your competence.”