Meditating on Science in Public Policy

This week on #meetascientist, we get to know Philo Mbong, who serves as a member of the 500 Women Scientists leadership team. A virologist by training, Philo left Academia to bring science into the world of public policy. She shares how she found her way into science with her interest in reproductive health and how she manages to ground herself through all her science policy and advocacy activities (spoiler: she's a master of yoga). Thanks for sharing your story with us!

Describe your work and research to us. When did you first identify yourself as a scientist, and/or want to be a scientist? 

Throughout my undergraduate career I had a strong interest in medicine, specifically in reproductive health. However, I graduated from college with no plan of taking the MCAT or thought to what medical schools I was interested in attending. Under the advice of a dear friend, I decided to enroll in graduate school because I needed some time to figure out my next steps! Since I was interested in reproductive health, I found a lab that would allow me to learn the skills necessary to work with ova and sperm. This landed me in a virology lab. My hope was that there would be a link between herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and infertility, but there was no such evidence to be found. As I studied for the MCAT and progressed in my Master’s project, I found that I truly enjoyed scientific discovery. So when I bombed the MCAT a year out of college, naturally I stayed on for a PhD. 

In my dissertation project, I was able to clarify the interplay between a set of viral proteins during HSV-1 infections, discover that HSV-1 viral protein UL21 promotes the start of viral protein production, and collaborate on a project that determined deletion of a particular viral protein in HSV-1 had effects at different stages during HSV-1 infections. Upon completing my PhD, I went on to complete my postdoctoral training in a neuroendocrinology lab. My focus was on the effects of obesity on reproductive hormone signaling to reproductive cells in the pituitary. During this project I was able to marry the skills learned from my PhD with the advanced technologies required to study the complex issues of reproductive health.

 Philo at the March for Science in D.C.

Philo at the March for Science in D.C.

What niche do you want to fill in the science world? Research, policy, action? Why? 

My hope is to fill the gaps found in government. To do this we need more scientifically trained individuals in public office. Thus, I hope to make a run for public office one day. The attack on science has not reached the biomedical sciences, but it very well could if we scientists become complacent. By being in public office I would be able to help people see that science is real! I would be able to bring sound judgment to public policy that would affect individuals across this country and around the world.

What role do you see 500WS holding in the science world or beyond? Why is this important to you?

I see 500 Women Scientists as a game changer. It is an organization that is challenging the status quo from how leadership is selected in scientific organizations to the best practices on disseminating scientific information to the general public. Important to me is the vision and mission of 500WS. We are aiming to ensure diversity is held at the top of our agenda and not as a passing thought. The bedrock of this organization is the passionate members who hold a stake in the organization’s success, shifting the tides and making intense waves in all sectors of science, while ensuring science reaches the people in a way they can digest it. 

 Philo and colleagues making a visit to California Senator Diane Feinstein's office on the Hill.

Philo and colleagues making a visit to California Senator Diane Feinstein's office on the Hill.

Outside of science what are your priorities, hobbies, and goals? 

I find ways to effect change in all that I do, and my hobbies are a reflection of this. Since I cannot go to Syria, I teach ESL to a Syrian woman twice a week to help her adjust to her new life in America. Through teaching yoga, I aim to ensure individuals get to know, respect, and enjoy their bodies. I meditate daily to bring calm to a world that is full of chaos and suffering. I also love to hike, kayak, play board games, read, and drink bourbon as well as local craft beers!

 Striking a yoga pose in the great outdoors.

Striking a yoga pose in the great outdoors.

Philo Mbong is a biomedical scientist. She has left bench research to translate science into policy and develop strategies to diversify and strengthen the STEM workforce. She received her Master's and Ph.D. degrees in virology from the University of Alabama.