Summer 2018 Part One: Adventures in Standards, Technology, and Maryland

It’s hard to believe it, but summer is drawing to an end. In less than two weeks, I’ll be starting my third and final year of law school (cue simultaneous terrified screaming and joyful dancing). But before I dive back into school, I want to talk about my summer. And what a summer it’s been.


Summer in law school is about four months long. That’s plenty of time to have a fulfilling internship and to take some time off. Or, if you’re like me, it gives you time to do two internships and squeeze in half a vacation where you can. I started working the Monday after finals ended, and I’m still working now. In fact, I’m continuing at this second internship through fall semester, so I’m never really stopping. A few people have commented, and I’ve made these comments myself, that I planned this poorly and should have built more of a break into my summer, but I’m really glad I did it this way. I wanted to get a lot of experience out of this summer, and that’s what I did.


I’m going to talk about my summer in three blog posts. Otherwise it would be one crazy long rather scattered blog post. In this post, I’m going to talk about my first internship at the Office of the Chief Counsel of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. In a few days, or next week, or whenever I get to it, I’m going to talk about my second internship at Analytical Space. I’m also going to talk about what exactly space law is in that post, because I know I’ve been promising that since I wrote this post a few months ago. Finally, in the third post,  I’m going to talk about how I overcame my writer’s block and my strategies for continuing to write once school starts again. That’s the plan, at least. So let’s get started.


Right after finals, I took a road trip down to Gaithersburg, Maryland to start my first internship at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, NIST. I had never heard of NIST before this year, and I was a little nervous about the whole thing. I’d had a hard time finding housing, too. All in all, I wasn’t looking forward to two months in what I saw as middle-of-nowhere Maryland, and thanks to my experiences in Italy, I hate commuting by bus. But it turned out to be a really great experience.


It was everything I could have wanted from an internship, and more.


First of all, I got to do some really cool legal work. There was the standard legal research and  memo writing, but it was on topics I found really interesting, like Europe’s new General Data Protection Regulation and how it impacted the federal government, or how different aspects of government work, like appropriations from congress and delegation of certain powers to federal agencies. I also got to do some things I’ve never done before. I wrote two pieces of draft statutory language to amend NIST’s authorization bill (the law that gives NIST power to do things), and those were presented to Congress for revising. What happens to them next is anyone’s guess. I also got to draft a response appealing the denial of a patent. Finally, I got to do some things that all the NIST lawyers get to do—reviewing policy directives and notices of opportunities for federal funding (basically notices for federal grants), and it was really interesting to see how that process worked. I did a lot of interesting legal work. I was challenged, and I learned a lot of new things. And if I wasn’t sure about my choice to go into space law, I was absolutely positively sure after working at NIST.


It wasn’t just all the cool legal stuff that made my experience great. I really liked the people I was working with, and there was a great office environment. People were busy, but it never felt stressful, and people were always laughing. Neutron made a lot of new friends, of course. He liked to camp out under my desk, but whenever someone was walking past in the hall, he stuck his head out the door and was like “Hey, hey, you forgot to pet me!” We also got to meet attorneys from other NIST offices, and we even got to have lunch with an attorney from NOAA, which is one of the jobs I’m applying for after law school (cross your fingers for me). I also got to take a tour of the Capitol with other legal interns from the Department of Commerce.


Yes, I was still in the middle-of-nowhere Maryland, and yes the bus system did leave something to be desired (I could get to work in the morning and from work in the afternoon, but that was all, and don’t get me started on the times when the system that announced the stops was broken), but I made it work. The other attorneys gave me rides if it was pouring rain so I didn’t have to get all wet getting to work. I was living with three housemates, so I wasn’t on my own on the weekends. There was a nice mile loop around my neighborhood where I could walk with Neutron in the evenings. I got a lot of writing done, and I mean a lot (more on that in part three of my summer).


And I finally sucked it up and got a Lyft account so I could vensure out if I wanted to. This was actually a pretty big deal for me. I haven’t talked about it on here, but I’ve been pretty nervous about ridesharing services, because I’ve heard so many horror stories about what happens to people with guide dogs when they try to use them. Best case scenario, it seemed to me, the driver would simply drive away when they saw you: Worst case scenario, they’d get out of the car to yell at you that you can’t come with them and end up hitting you, or they’d take you in their car, but stop under a bridge somewhere, mug you, and leave you stranded god knows where. My philosophy on travel is that I want to get mlaces on my own two feet, or using public transportation, even if it takes me longer. But in Gaithersburg, if I wanted to go anywhere on the weekends that wasn’t this mile loop around my neighborhood (and you can only go in circles so many times before you get dizzy), I needed to take a Lyft. And so I did. I met some friends from Kenyon at the Gaithersburg Book Festival, and I went to Silver Springs a couple times to have lunch with them and for a board game night. The worst that happened was a leally awkward conversation in which a driver asked me a bunch of questions about being blind because she didn’t know anyone who “has the same problem as you.” But compared to being mugged or stranded, this was just fine. (Note, taking a Lyft has not been so easy in Boston. I’ll talk about that in part two of my summer.)


I realize that I haven’t actually told you what NIST is or what it does. This was sort of deliberate, because I didn’t realize the full extent of NIST’s work until my second to last day, when I got to go on a tour. Since I was splitting my summer between two internships, I started and ended my work at NIST earlier than most other legal interns at the federal government, so I missed the tour for the legal interns from the department of Commerce. But I got to join a tour for a group of middle and high school science teachers who had won grants. It was a ton of fun.


NIST is a federal agency, part of the Department of Commerce. It’s basically a giant government lab. The science kind, not the wagging kind. There are scientists from all over the world inventing things (hence the patent project I worked on), or working inn new and better ways to standardize everything from peanut butter to plumbing components. One of my housemates was doing something with neutrons (the subatomic particle, not my doggy), and another roommate was working on how to 3D print metal. So lots of cool stuff.


I think the thing NIST is most famous for is the standard peanut butter.  I don’t mean that this is the peanut butter from which all peanut butters are born. I mean that NIST makes a jar of peanut butter, and using their super special scientific measuring tools, the NIST scientists figure out how much fat, how many carbohydrates, and how much other stuff is in the peanut butter. Then, they sell the standard peanut butter to companies who make peanut butter, and the peanut butter companies can use their super special scientific measurement tools to look at the NIST peanut butter. If they get the same results as NIST, they know their measurements are right, and they can measure their own peanut butter and put all the correct info on the labels. If they get different results, they know they have to recalibrate their super special scientific measurement machines. NIST doesn’t just do this for peanut butter. You name it, NIST standardizes it.  there was even standard air and standard water, used to test machines that measure polution.


On the tour, we got a presentation from a scientist working in a lab where they did temperature and thermometer standards. It was a fascinating presentation, and I’m sorry to say that I don’t remember many of the finer poinss because it was about two months ago and I didn’t take notes. But the really cool thing was that all around this lab, there were these tubes containing different elements at their triple-point. They were keeping these tubes at precise temperatures and pressure, so that in each tube, at the same time, the element was in its solid, liquid, and gaseous state. They passed around the triple-point cells for water and tin. Jameyanne holding a triple-point cell for water, a glass cylinder containing solid ice, liquid water, and gaseous water vapor.The picture on the right is me holding the triple-point cell for water. It’s a glass tube, with ice at the bottom, water in the middle, and gas at the top. This was definitely one of those times when I was mourning the fact that I didn’t become a scientist, because soooo cooool!!!! But there’s plenty of time to become a scientist later if I want to, once I’ve paid off the law school student loans.


I spent eight weeks at NIST. I was so busy and I did so much that the time just flew by. It felt like one minute I was learning my way around the campus, and the next I was saying goodbye. This was hands-down the best legal internship I’ve had so far, and now I can’t wait to finish law school and start practicing science and space law.


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