Cognitive Science, social justice, and public policy are Julia Pan’s (C’19) passions, or really, one passion, since it is at the intersection of those that her interest lies: “I believe that neuroscience and other behavioral sciences are the key to creating the most effective and efficient policies,” Julia explains. “Technology obviously also has a much larger role in society than it did 20 years ago, and it is crucial for policy to keep up with technology to ensure that it is being used justly,” so that it serves the public interest and not just private interests.
Academically, Julia blazed an interdisciplinary path to weave together these various fields. She is double majoring in Cognitive Science and Economics while doing a certificate in public policy, with a focus on Innovation and Technology Policy, through Penn Wharton PPI’s Public Policy Research Scholar (PPRS) program. Julia sees PPRS as the “the main mechanism in forging my academic trajectory at Penn,” as it bridges her two majors while also extending them into the policy realm. “The classes that I am most passionate and excited about are the courses I take for PPRS because it provides me with a structured program to study technology policy that isn’t offered anywhere else at Penn,” she says.
It is through Julia’s research and internship experiences, though, that her education has really come to life. With support from the Philadelphia Behavioral Science Initiative, Julia was a Policy Fellow in the Philadelphia Mayor’s Office, where she applied insights from cognitive science to public policies concerning illegal trash dumping, tobacco compliance, and city employee wellness. “At the city level, I was able to witness the interpersonal aspects of policymaking and the direct, practical impact that local policy has” on people’s everyday lives, Julia recalls. Then, in the summer of 2017, Julia was able to broaden her purview by interning for the Consumer Protection Branch of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission in Washington, DC, where she “became more familiar with the broader legal and economic aspects of policy.” In addition, working at the FTC was an opportunity for Julia to understand how the enforcement of policy works, so she could see how policy is actually implemented and put into effect. This summer, Julia, who on top of everything else is a fellow at the Center for Neuroscience & Society, is gaining more academic research experience by interning at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School, researching the ethics and governance of artificial intelligence, with funding support from Penn Wharton PPI. By developing her understanding of the connections between neuroscience, economics, and policy through both research and work experience, Julia is preparing to pursue graduate study and ultimately aspires to teach at the college level.
On campus, Julia’s passion for social justice and advocacy led her to assume a leadership role with the Lambda Alliance, the undergraduate LGBTQ+ organization. She also has been a student leader for Penn CORP, a pre-orientation program run by Civic House that is focused on civic engagement, social justice, and community service. For Julia, both experiences have been “incredibly rewarding because I have been given the opportunity to set the political agenda for the given year and advocate for more LGBTQ+ friendly and trans-inclusive policies relating to student health, mental wellness, and academic initiatives alongside the Penn administration.” In addition, Julia is combining her interest in social justice and technology through her work for Hack4impact, a nonprofit that aids other nonprofits through technical assistance. Julia is inspired by the possibilities of using technology to help governments solve big problems, and plans to do so within the context of her future academic career. “As a future scientist and technologist, I want to transform the efficiency and efficacy of government policies and services through behavioral science insights and civic technology,” she affirms. “I believe the biggest social impact we can make with technology is through government.”