Our first offical week starts here, though in typical (I am coming to learn) Eisenhower fashion, they managed to squeeze in a few meetings before the beginning of the seminar. On Saturday we were invited to a US fellow’s home out in New Jersey. Before we went to her house, her husband showed us around his work-place, the EcoComplex at Rutgers University. They are working on issues such as recycling gas from landfill sites and other recycling/renewable technologies. He showed us round their greenhouses which are used as incubators for small companies as well as test-beds for new technologies. Absolutely fascinating and a really cool guy. And we had a lovely evening at their home, so thanks Lisa and David!
Sunday was a continuation of the social interaction that is so important here (albeit with a slow start).
Monday started badly. I had a meeting alongside Iyad and Omar, but I got it all wrong and we were in completely the wrong part of town. So we were 20 minutes late for our meeting with former Congressman Jim Greenwood, who is now President of the Biotech industry organisation. It was a real shame, as he was very interesting and it would have been good to have had more time with him. We spoke about GMO acceptance in Europe and the R&D dilemma for US drug companies, where US consumers feel they are subsidising drug development for the rest of the world and Congress is trying to gain some control over the pricing structure. I told him about IMI – I’ve been selling the JTIs all over, as I passed details on to Dave Specca at Rutgers as well.
After that the three of us went over to BioAdvance, a life science/biotech start-up fund. Great woman called Barbara Schillberg leading it. We talked about some of the issues around Bayh-Dole, getting technology out of universities and the publication v patenting debate. She felt that there needs to be a revision of Bayh-Dole, because its time has been (and very important it was too) and gone. There was a frustration that universities are over-selling, or over-estimating, the value of their technology. This fund started out of the tobacco settlement and has been doing extremely well (not that I could really follow all the venture capital jargon!).
Then we headed back to EF house for the session with the Chairman of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission – the state-level equal opportunities body. It was a session with quite a few of our group, with the President of the Commission and its Chief Counsel. It was nostalgic for me to hark back to some of the issues I dealt with when I was doing Employment and Social Affairs!
After a quick lunch we started the opening seminar, with a session where we all introduced ourselves to the group and explained the photo we sent in advance. I don’t have mine with me, but it was of a glacier taken from a helicopter over Svalbard. That was a trip of a lifetime and I think Svalbard symbolises simultaneously the mess we’ve got ourselves into and the means we have of getting out of it – science and co-operation.
Today was great too. We started with a brief session by Amb Wolf about how to get the most out of our fellowship and then moved on to the “getting to know each other” session. It was a kind of “speed-dating’ arrangement, where we spent 6 minutes talking to one of the other fellows about a topic – our hobbies, or how we found out about the Fellowship, or our professional challenges. It was very instructive to scratch the surface of our colleagues and at the same time to realise quite how much we have in common, even though we seem so disparate.
This afternoon we went down to the Pew Charitable Trust to discuss the role of civil society in American society. Their NGO sector is enormous, responsible for about 10% of GDP, if you can believe it (it includes many of the universities, colleges etc) with an overwhelming amount of the money donated coming from individuals. One of the issues I am going to be looking at during the programme is the role of foundations, charities and philanthropy in science, so this was good background. One interesting point was made – are Americans more at ease with donating, and likely to do so, as the flip-side of having a political system where the power is with the people and the power of the governments proscribed. “If we want to keep government out of some areas of life then we need to put our hands in our pockets.” Something to explore with some of my interlocutors.
And if anyone has any good synonyms for interesting please leave them in the comments section, because I’m already over-using it!
It’s becoming ever more clear to me what the potential of this programme is. Yes it’s going to be interesting to talk to people in the US. And yes it’s going to be such a bonus getting to know these people from around the world. But there’s also going to be a considerable element of getting to know myself, and what I want out of life, because I’ll have the time to think about that. And I’ll also have a chance to think about where I come from – I’m already realising all sorts of things about myself as a European, or a Brit, that never really occured to me before. This is a rare luxury and I hope I’m able to make the most of it.