September 27, 2019

Q&A with Duke Alumnus Adam Fischer

Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions
Q&A with Duke Alumnus Adam Fischer

Adam Fischer graduated from Duke University in May 2019 with dual master’s degrees from the Nicholas School of the Environment and the Sanford School of Public Policy—and a five-month head start on his post-Duke career. During the spring semester, Fischer began working for the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, where he interned the previous summer. He earned class credit for the job through an independent study advised by Tim Profeta, director of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. Fischer took a few minutes to discuss this unique experience and his time at Duke.

Q: Your concentration in the Nicholas School’s graduate program was in energy and the environment. What interested you in working in this particular area?

Fischer: Back in high school, I first realized that climate change was something I was particularly interested in. When I went to Tufts University, I doubled down on that and devoted my time to studying energy and climate policy, at least to the extent that I could as an undergrad.

As soon as I graduated, I moved to D.C. for an internship at the White House doing energy and climate policy work, which felt like one of those surreal once-in-a-lifetime experiences and just reaffirmed my interest in that field. From there, I went on to work in consulting for the Department of Energy as a contractor, just continuing to gain more exposure to these issues and broadening my depth of knowledge in energy and climate policy. It’s just such a dynamic field, and I’ve always been fascinated by and drawn to the idea of addressing these challenges that are so complex. The more I learned over the years, the more I wanted dig deeper.

Q: How did this opportunity with the Nicholas Institute come about?

Fischer: My first year at Duke, I wasn’t planning to necessarily do the dual degree. I was at the Nicholas School and, as part of that, I had the opportunity to do a research assistantship. Fortunately, I ended up at the Nicholas Institute, which, quite frankly, was the only assistantship I wanted.

It was precisely the type of work I wanted to be doing—that kind of analytical focus on energy and climate issues but also with this applied view toward how to translate what’s happening in a research organization to the real world. I tend to think of myself as a pragmatic person, and I think that the Nicholas Institute takes a very pragmatic approach to the work it does. I was able to work with the Climate and Energy Team there for my first year, met some really interesting people, and was part of some very timely work. And I was able to maintain those relationships that I made moving forward.

Q: What did you learn through this experience beyond what you could get in a typical graduate program, and how do you think it has helped prepare you for your career?

Fischer: It’s easy to get caught up in thinking about the curriculum and the classes and what seems like the more obvious parts of grad school. Now having finished up at Duke, I look back, and that was obviously an important part of my time there. But it’s the relationships I built and the extracurricular experiences I had that were really formative, especially my time at the Nicholas Institute.

There are a lot of individual pieces of the puzzle from my time at Duke that made it such a memorable experience, but the Nicholas Institute definitely played a central role. And working with Tim was and has been very rewarding because of where he came from professionally and what he brings to the Nicholas Institute from that time. It’s invaluable for me, personally and professionally.

Q: What advice would you have for other Duke students who are looking to follow a similar career path and work on climate change policy at the federal level?

Fischer: Grad school is this kind of unique moment in life when you’re constantly surrounded by intellectual curiosity and opportunities that just don’t present themselves in the real world. Take advantage of those and meet as many people working on the issues that you’re interested in as possible, especially from different programs and places across campus. You never know how their backgrounds and insights might inform your own interests—not to mention who they might know and what professional opportunities might be on their radar.

Duke is a well-connected place on its own, but that network continues on post-Duke. For students who are interested in energy and climate issues, in particular, there are tons of people who are doing really impressive work on and off campus. So try to build that network and build that family as much as you can during your time at Duke, because you never know what doors it might open down the road.

– by Jeremy Ashton