Rachael Kretsch (2017) Essay

Rachael Kretsch

February 2019

I was born a scientist, inquisitive of nature and the cosmos. Growing up in The Hague, the one landmark of science in my city was the Organization of the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the organization charged with preventing the use and spread of chemical weapons. In a simplistic view, chemistry was a threat. Yet, for me science was a field of boundless possibilities, which with creativity could improve the world. From my perspective the unknown is exciting, necessary, persistent something to be investigated. Whereas in the security sphere, the unknown is feared, something to be fixed and minimized.

My undergraduate institution, Harvey Mudd College, offers a unique education to scientists who are expected to leave “with a clear understanding of the impact of their work on society.” This often involved the skills to describe research to others and make ethical research decision but rarely does it involve asserting our agency in the political realm, active as opposed to passive engagement. I wanted more than an understanding, I wanted influence.

Over the past six decades fundamental science has been increasingly securitized. Since the most basic research on the nucleus was turned into the “absolute” weapon, the nuclear bomb, research has been increasingly securitized and criticized. The judgement of scientists are questioned. They do not understand the social ramifications of their research, it is assumed.

These are the notion I wanted to critically analyze entering into my summer internship in 2017 at CNS. I wanted to discover why that field tends to securitize science. I view science as one of the great global collaborations of our time, a way to bring communities together and solve the very problems they view as caused by science.

Dr Ray Zilinskas was an excellent mentor. He dedicated much of his time to thinking about how new developments in the sciences should be perceived in the security field. But, he especially has a fascination with the past-Soviet program; with a healthy fascination for the technical endeavors but without ever losing sight of the social implications. I owe to Dr Zilinskas my continued effort to engage with the policy community and better communicate scientific concepts and goals. Above all, I thank him for the confidence he had in me that, as a scientist, I could have agency, and could have an impact beyond my knowledge creation in the lab. Dr Zilinskas passed away a few days before I began my MA in Science and Security. As I study the topic he had so much passion for, I hope I can make him proud.

In a few months I take the next step in my journey pursuing a PhD in Biophysics. I take with me the knowledge of how a scientist can have agency and impact. Especially in the security field where scientific work has been utilized in unexpected ways, I cannot understand the impact of my work unless I engage with those further down the line, the policy makers. I hope one day to be an educator who empowers scientists, not only in their scientific endeavors, but also in their role in society.

Throughout this piece I have not mentioned my gender. This is a deliberate choice because I strongly believe my gender does not dictate my talent, skills, or aspirations. It is unfortunate reality that women have been systematically underrepresented in the security and scientific field both in the makeup of the field itself and with whose concerns the field attempts to solve. We have begun to make great strides at rectifying these issues but young woman, like myself, must vigorously continue the work of those that have come before us. It starts by wholeheartedly believing you yourself are no less a scientist, a leader, or a security expert because of your gender. Then, go out and empower other to believe the same.