Harvey Mudd College
Karen Morrison, 2008 Goldwater Scholarship recipient

Karen Morrison’s original career goal was to conduct cutting-edge research that directly promotes human welfare either in a biotech company or academia.

Since graduating from Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California, receiving the Goldwater Scholarship in 2008 and earning her PhD in organic chemistry in 2013, Morrison’s career trajectory has veered away from research and landed in the public policy arena where human welfare is still front and center.

“The Goldwater award was the first major external award that I received in my career. At the time, I was confident that I wanted to pursue a research career. In many ways, this was the first step validating and encouraging that path,” Morrison says. “I received an NSF graduate research fellowship the following year and was accepted at every graduate program I applied to; it’s likely that the Goldwater award served as confirmation of my other accomplishments.”

Today, Morrison works in the policy office of the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle). She analyzes data and develops policy related to state waste management.
“I work in an area of environmental policy that is innovative, intellectually demanding and directly promoting human welfare through the safe management of waste in California,” Morrison says. “So while this isn’t the career I set out to have in 2007 when I received the award, the training and development that I’ve received through the research portion of my work is incredibly important, and the Goldwater award was the first recognition of that.”

During her tenure as a California Council on Science and Technology science policy fellow at the California Senate Environmental Quality Committee, Morrison developed a fascination for local politics and can enumerate the quirks of California’s legislative process.

“The politics can be challenging,” she admits,” but I think scientists increasingly recognize we’ve been absent in the political discussion.” Morrison insists the interplay between science and politics needn’t be contentious. She relishes the chance to explore the space in between them and improve the world in the process.

Morrison would like to see more STEM specialists in the political arena.

“Elected officials hold real power in enacting science-based legislation,” she says, “and this is one of the many ways that scientists can get more involved.”