Losing my dream job to politics

I am currently entering year 5 of a 5 year PhD program in Environmental Engineering. In the middle of year 2, I received a fellowship (and subsequently a larger grant) to complete research funded and housed at the EPA. And since my work focuses on ensuring the air we breathe is clean, an agency aimed at protecting the environment (and thus the inhabitants of that environment) was an obvious (future) career choice for me. It also happened to be a dream-come-true, at the time.

The US EPA no longer focuses on climate change. They no longer financially support work that targets climate change mitigation (i.e. everything I do). And EPA directors can no longer add their name to work related to climate change (i.e. everything I publish, including my dissertation). Where does that leave me?

Oddly, in the exact same position I was in before. Yes, I have to be more tactful and budget better, but everything else is the same. Lesson learned — I don’t need the EPA to make a difference. I only need me.

And what is it that I do? I look at nanoporous solid adsorbents (like activated carbon, but way cooler materials) that can selectively remove carbon dioxide from complex gas streams (like vehicle exhaust). And because sustainability is the key word, I also look at the economics of a mobile carbon capture scheme, the environmental benefits based on a climate model, and the societal implications using a driver opinion survey.

The ultimate goal is to remove 80%+ of carbon emissions from the transportation sector by retrofitting this technology onto the vast stock of vehicles currently on the road. By first targeting heavy duty tractor-trailers, the economic burden is widely distributed and the need for public policy and/or government regulations is avoided (at least initially). From this point, auto manufacturers can be motivated to install the “proven, cost-effective” carbon capture technology on all new vehicles after 2025.

What else you should know about me: I live in Michigan with my husband, 1 year old son, and 8 year old cocker spaniel; I adore Star Trek (TNG) and Game of Thrones; and I spent half of my youth living in southern Germany.

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