Communicating science to policymakers

I’ve always been interested in working on complex and interdisciplinary issues, and climate change may be the most globally pertinent and politically fraught challenge of our lifetimes. Before I came to Georgia Tech I worked in Washington, DC as a Congressional liaison for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. There, I learned a lot about earth systems science from the perspective of trying to find the most effective ways to communicate information from the research community to policymakers. I realized almost immediately upon starting the job that I craved the opportunity to pose and respond to those research questions myself.

Now I am part of a lab group working to uncover the mechanisms by which the ocean interacts with the larger earth system. I am investigating how ocean circulation has changed since the Last Glacial Maximum. By better understanding how the ocean has driven or responded to abrupt climate change in the past, we hope to better understand and project how the climate is currently changing. After working in Washington for over 5 years, I am know simply providing policymakers with the best science available will guarantee that the most rational decisions will be made.  However, there is much to be done, and many who will benefit from more confident projections, constrained by data on how the earth has changed in the past, of what their coasts, cities, and farmlands and will look like over the coming decades. I believe that demand will be best met by those who can speak both languages and help bridge the gaps between science and society- and my hope is that Georgia Tech is preparing me for that role!

Shannon Valley


Shannon Valley is a 3rd year PhD student in EAS. Her line of research is paleoclimate/paleoceanography which involves reconstructing past ocean circulation using geochemical proxies in order to understand the ocean’s role in abrupt climate change. Recently she presented the poster "Timing of Deglacial AMOC Variability from a High-resolution Seawater Cadmium Reconstruction" at the International Conference on Paleoceanography.

Shannon received a BA in Political Science and International Studies (2007) from Northwestern University and an MS in EAS awarded Summer 2016 under the advisement of Dr. Jean Lynch-Stieglitz. She has worked for five years in NASA’s Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs in Washington, DC and was awarded the NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal in 2014 for communicating NASA science (including Earth science) on Capitol Hill. During her time in DC, she also spent six months working in the West Wing, for the Domestic Policy Council in the Executive Office of the President. In 2015 Shannon was awarded the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. She is currently the 2016-2017 University Relations Chair for Georgia Tech’s Black Graduate Student Association.

Her interests lie at the intersections of science and society. She spends a lot of time thinking about how scientific understanding of Earth systems can support those who are least equipped to handle changes to our climate and how our political and economic systems may help or hinder those efforts. In her spare time, Shannon enjoys traveling, yoga, hiking, and plane spotting.

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  • Shannon Valley, 3rd year Ph.D. in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences

  • Shannon Valley, weighing samples at Georgia Tech, Fall 2016

  • Shannon Valley, Utrecht, rowing after ICP Conference, Fall 2016