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Justice, Fairness, Inclusion, and Performance.

Fellow Spotlight: Alan Leshner

Dr. Leshner is Chief Executive Officer, Emeritus of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and former Executive Publisher of the journal Science and the Science family of journals. He served as CEO from December 2001 through February 2015, and then as Interim CEO from July-December 2019. Before coming to AAAS, Dr. Leshner was Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Who or what inspired you to enter into public service?

I came to public service by accident. I was a tenured full professor of psychology at Bucknell University and was asked to go to the National Science Foundation for a year as one of their rotating program officers. I did and wound up staying for nine years. Had eight jobs in nine years.

I discovered two things. One, I liked all of science and diverse kinds of jobs, so when opportunities came, I just took them. More relevant to your question, I realized that even though I was a decent, albeit not great scientist, I could make a much larger contribution to science and to the broader society through public service, and that’s my reinforcer: impact. I spent 22 years in the government and loved it all.

What advice would you give to those interested in pursuing public policy or public administration as a career?

Give it a try, but hold all your preconceptions as much in abeyance as you can. And don’t let the bureaucracy and people whining about it overwhelm you. There is bureaucracy but also great opportunity to do things of impactful scale. Focus on that.

What area of public policy interests you the most and why?

My whole career was focused around science – first as a bench scientist and then as a generalist more interested in the state of the scientific enterprise than in the details of one domain of science.

What is your favorite cuisine?

I cook both Chinese and Indian food as a hobby. I’m much better at Indian and suspect I prefer it, although people love my shrimp fried rice.

What is your favorite hobby or activity that you enjoy doing in your free time?

My wife and I love to travel internationally; I’ve been to over 60 countries. And we both like to take pictures, mostly of animals, so we seek out places where there are interesting animals.

Who in your life has been an influential mentor or inspiration for you?

I have been very fortunate to have had many mentors, starting with my father who was very wise. An important lesson was to pay attention; all advice is useful even if you don’t take it all, so keep seeking it.

What was your dream job as a child?

My high school yearbook predicted I’d be an Arthur Murray dance instructor. I never made it.

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