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Rebecca Webber Gaudiosi (TGS '04)

Author and Former Foreign Affairs Officer

Author and Former Foreign Affairs Officer

US Department of State

The Art of Negotiation

Once on the career path of an engineer and scientist, Rebecca Gaudiosi took an unusual turn and found herself working as a negotiator for the US State Department. Now an independent consultant and writer, Gaudiosi is completing her first book alongside two co-authors on the art and practice of multilateral negotiations. During her almost ten-year run at the State Department as a Foreign Affairs Officer, Gaudiosi worked on environmental issues at the United Nations, negotiating outcomes on substantive policy, budgets, and institutional reform.

Gaudiosi obtained her PhD in materials science and engineering from The Graduate School at Northwestern University in 2004. While working on her thesis, she focused on polymer physics and was able to collaborate with labs across the globe. However, she had noticed that there were often communication gaps between scientists and the public who needed their work and the policy makers whose support they required; she wanted to help bridge those divides by contributing to a better understanding of science. She was also always aware of environmental concerns and found herself wondering whether her work, though important, justified the environmental pollution she was likely creating. She hoped to be a part of the policy solutions to those dilemmas as well.

After graduating, she entered the State Department as an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology Policy Fellow. During her two-year fellowship, she was placed in the Department’s UN Bureau, briefly working on economic development before taking over the Environment Lead position, where she was responsible for US engagement with more than twenty international bodies working on environment issues.

“Given my educational background, I tended to look at things differently when in a room full of political scientists and people focused on policy and history,” says Gaudiosi who, after her post-doc, obtained her master’s in public policy from Princeton University. “At Northwestern, I learned the ability to analyze situations from an engineering and problem-solving perspective, which was helpful in developing policy.”

“At Northwestern, I learned the ability to analyze situations from an engineering and problem-solving perspective, which was helpful in developing policy.” —Rebecca Webber Gaudiosi (TGS '04), Author

Some of her proudest accomplishments include helping develop the foundational documents for the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and being the lead negotiator on institutional issues for the Rio+20 conference. When the US decided to join IRENA, an intergovernmental organization that supports countries in their transition to a sustainable energy future, Gaudiosi was part of a small, high-level team sent to Abu Dhabi to structure the agency to be as effective as possible. In negotiating these crucial documents, Gaudiosi and her team helped set up the organization to be one that could have substantive conversations about renewable energy as well as offer assistance to developing countries.

As for Rio+20, the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development, Gaudiosi believes the most important thing to come out of the negotiations was the understanding that if development is to be successful, it must also be sustainable.

“I think we truly changed the international conversation on development to finally include sustainability as a key component,” says Gaudiosi, who worked on a team of five people to, under White House guidance, develop US positions to convince both the United States and the UN to adopt a sustainable development framework that anchors development within three intersecting foci: social, economic, and environmental.

As for her advice to students and recent graduates wishing to pursue a similar career trajectory, she recommends learning as much as one can about other perspectives.

“Understanding other perspectives is what helps you progress,” says Gaudiosi. “I also think the ability to be multidisciplinary and fluent across disciplines is really important.”