The Fellows represent an unusual network on Capitol Hill since we are bipartisan, bicameral, and are relatively extensive. I’ve observed that other staffers will hang out with friends from the same office or sometimes a group of education or energy staffers will have a happy hour, but the AAAS Fellows seemed to hang out together with much more frequency. There were a half a dozen fellows who went their own way and who I never saw after orientation, but the rest formed a dynamic and flexible network of varying social, topical, and geographic groups. For example, I was usually part of groups that went to the Kennedy Center, I was always in for going to Smithsonian tours, I interacted with different groups on water, energy, and chemical safety reform, and I hung out frequently with Senate Fellows or with Fellows from the Russell Senate Office Building.
Our conversations and email exchanges are rather idiosyncratic. For example, we must be the only people who watch hearings on C-Span and focus almost entirely on the people in the second row behind the Senators. In our early months, we tended to email our friends on the back bench, “Looking good!” or “That was a good question you wrote for the Senator!” It was even more fun to watch the TV and see the back benchers smirk when they received the email.
One day, I sent an email to a handful of Fellows saying, “I didn’t know that Senator Heinrich was an engineer! He’s so cool!” I swiftly received a reply back not only providing statistics of the number of engineers in each chamber (Heinrich is the only one in the Senate, I believe there are three in the House), but also commenting that one of the Fellows looked bored. I hadn’t provided the context that I was watching a hearing on C-Span, but apparently I didn’t need to either. There were also emails that flew back and forth a short time later when Senator Franken, obviously feeling neglected compared to the attention received by Senator Heinrich announced, “I understand Delta, even if I’m not an engineer.”
The Fellows developed their own style of conversation that involved extensive internal references that would probably have been undecipherable to anyone not watching C-Span. One exchange from a few months ago went along these lines:
“I love McCaskill!”
“Did you see Coburn on the Floor?”
It was as though we had all been watching a series of sporting events since we shared the understanding of the major actions of the day and could refer to the highlights in shorthand. (As a key, Sen. McCaskill was splendid during the Committee on Armed Services hearing on sexual assault in the military, Sen. Landrieu was unhappy that her flood insurance amendment on the Farm Bill was not getting a vote, and she was therefore objecting to each and every amendment that Sen. Coburn was trying to call up.)
One Fellow this summer was staffing his Senator for a hearing, so he emailed me and said, “Take pictures!” I used my iPhone to take pictures of my TV during the opening statements, but my fellow Fellow was only partly in the frame. How could the cameraperson think that the Senator was more important? When the first round of questions began and the focus was off his Senator, I emailed him and said he needed to try to slide to the right so I could get a better picture. He replied, “My right or the TV’s right?” “Your right,” I clarified, “And slouch a little.” He managed to shift a little to one side, so I got a slightly better picture when his Senator got a turn to ask questions and he was on camera again.
The Fellows are proud that our extensive interpersonal network is generally referred to as the Fellows’ mafia. On several occasions, I had information about the movement of a bill or the prospects of an amendment before anyone else in my office. The Fellows were also very generous in sharing their time, expertise, and knowledge. When a staff member in another office left suddenly for paternity leave, handling the amendments for the Water Resources Development Act abruptly became the responsibility of the Fellow in that office. The two of us ended up spending about an hour on the phone walking through a large number of amendments trading what we knew about each and then splitting up the job of tracking down additional information for the ones that were less clear. It was beneficial for both of us.
My fellow Fellows are fantastically bright, dedicated, and enthusiastic colleagues, and it was a pleasure to be welcomed as part of the group. As one would expect of scientists, they are both curious and creative, and because each Fellow had a slightly different network and a slightly different set of resources, I learned about opportunities that I would not have been aware of on my own. My nebulous awareness of some sort of Fellows network prior to my arrival in DC did not even begin to do justice to the friendships, resources, and support provided by my fellow Fellows. Although I know those friendships will continue, one of the hardest parts of leaving the Hill was knowing that I would not be seeing my fellow Fellows on a daily or weekly basis. It has been a privilege, an honor, and a pleasure to work with them.