Around the Table is a three-question interview series from the Make Room email newsletter. Each edition features a conversation with a peer in the national security community to learn about their expertise and experience in the sector.
Metin Toksoz-Exley is a research associate in the science and technology division at the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA). The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the position of IDA.
You have a bachelor’s degree in computer science and a master’s degree in applied mathematics. How do you apply your technical skills to advance national security?
My technical skills are crucial to my work as a research associate in the science and technology division at the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA). The projects I work on all require an understanding of computer science, statistics, and mathematical concepts. Some of the projects I’ve worked on involved researching areas such as space, dynamic communications systems, artificial reality/virtual reality systems, 5G, and artificial intelligence ethics. This requires that I understand the technologies underpinning these systems and how they can be advanced to enable us to continue to protect our nation. I’ve learned so much working at IDA so far and having a mathematical background gives me a skill set that allows me to learn new concepts and technologies, even if they’re outside areas I’ve had a traditional education in.
Your work is very technical, but you’re also a writer. How do you effectively communicate the technical part of your job to those without a background in applied mathematics?
Developing effective communication skills was very important to me. Communication skills are often an under-appreciated aspect of working in the STEM/national security field. I know the need to be able to communicate the value of different scientific and technological concepts to those who may not understand every detail of the system. Part of my job involves synthesizing and communicating complex topics that allow me to effectively inform decisions and policymakers with the nuances in areas I have conducted research. Through this, we can assist sponsors in making effective choices to keep advancing our nation’s security and defensive capabilities. Beyond my everyday work, I find communication crucial for meeting new people, learning about new things, and exploring new areas of the national security field. I have gained exposure to new projects and fields thanks to my emphasis on making connections with people in or out of my current field of work.
You are the founder of the D.C. chapter of Out in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), a nonprofit that supports STEM professionals in the LGBTQIA+ community. What motivated you to start this chapter?
I think that oftentimes I wasn’t aware of other queer folx in the STEM spaces I was in and, both for myself and others, I was hoping to build a community that can uplift and support each other as LGBTQIA+ professionals in the DMV region. Being a queer LGBTQIA+ professional in the national security field is interesting because even within my lifetime, there has been so much change in the acceptance of LGBTQIA+ people. From the time I was born in 1995, which was the year queer people could finally officially receive security clearances, to the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, to marriage and workplace equality victories, I feel so grateful to have had my life consist of an explosion in acceptance for the LGBTQIA+ community. Part of my drive to work/participate within groups like Out in STEM and Out in National Security is to honor those who have fought for the progress I’ve seen in my lifetime and continue, in any small way, their work.
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