Resolve to a career in science policy

1/8/2018 1:15:41 PM

Ready to make some changes in the New Year? (No, I’m not talking about resolving to wash your lab coat at least once a year or to stop using paper towels as an improvised lab notebook). If you really want to have an impact this year, consider a career in science policy.  

In the past year, there has been a renewed focus on science advocacy in response to a new administration that devalues the role of science in society. And the outcry has been impressive, as evidenced by the March for Science to the creation of political-action committees dedicated to getting scientists elected to office. There is a need for scientists like you who use evidence- and science-based (yeah, try to censor that) information to create impactful policies that benefit society.  

But what exactly is science policy? Refer to this ASBMB Today article from former ASBMB science-policy fellow Geoffrey Hunt for a good description. In my own words, science policy refers to informed decision-making that sets policies for the benefit of both scientists and society. Areas of applicability include establishing higher-education and workforce policies that promote the careers of scientists; applying science outcomes to develop legislation that addresses societal and environmental issues; and informing the future direction of research and proper funding allocation.  

So, how do you get more experience in policy? As I mentioned in a previous post on volunteering in science, you can volunteer your time on a science-advisory board or get involved with a grassroots-advocacy network. Here are a few ideas on how to get involved with policy in your field of interest. The ASBMB also maintains a page of advocacy-related coalition partners and other society websites that may have relevant information posted.  

  • The Society for Neuroscience is seeking early-career scientists to join its Early Career Policy Ambassadors Program. Participants get experience in publicly advocating for science and leading grassroots campaigns. Applicants must be a member of the SfN and either be an undergraduate student performing neuroscience research, a graduate student, or within 10 years of having completed a Ph.D. or M.D. Applications are due Jan. 19.  
  • The ASBMB Public Affairs Advisory Committee has big plans for 2018, including the development of an advocacy externship program to provide training opportunities for members who want to get more involved with science policy. There are other opportunities to get engaged as well, including an annual Capitol Hill Day and participating in pop-up campaigns. Stay tuned to the ASBMB Policy Blotter blog and the recently launched Pipettes and Politics podcast for more details.  
  • At the federal level, a number of government agencies solicit open calls for scientists to join advisory councils or provide input on the direction of funding and science initiatives, commonly referred to as “requests for information”. These opportunities often are posted on the Federal Register. RFIs also are posted on State and local governments have similar opportunities, so check out the respective websites for more information.  

Another good route to get more experience in the science-policy world is to do a paid fellowship or internship. Here are some opportunities I ran across this week.  

  • Harvard University’s Center for the Environment is recruiting for the Environmental Fellows Program. Fellows will work toward addressing complex environmental challenges and creating transdisciplinary connections, including linkages to policy domains. Applicants must be within four years of receiving a Ph.D. (or other applicable terminal degree) and have secured a faculty mentor. The application deadline is Jan. 17.  
  • The Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment at Princeton University invites applications for its Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellowship program. Fellows will research innovative technology, economic and policy solutions to energy and environmental issues. Applicants must be within three years of receiving a Ph.D. and preferably work with a faculty mentor to prepare the research plan. Applications are due Feb. 15.  
  • The American Association for the Advancement of Science hosts an annual Science and Technology Fellowship program. Fellows are embedded across various branches of the federal government in Washington D.C. to provide scientific expertise to the policymaking process. Applicants must have a terminal degree in their field of expertise. The application system will open on May 1.  
  • The American Association for University Women hires paid interns each semester and in the summer to work in its public policy and government relations department. Preference is for applicants in their junior or senior year of college or graduate students with a strong interest in learning about the policymaking process. See the website for details on how to apply.  

How else can you stay updated on policy issues and job opportunities? Here are some science-policy resources to add to your reading list.  

  • The American Institute of Physics maintains the FYI policy news and resource center with weekly updates on federal science policy and an opportunities section with job and fellowship postings. You can subscribe to the newsletter as well.  
  • Also, former ASBMB careers blogger Diedre Ribbens previously featured science-policy jobs here on the careers blog, and it’s worth checking out to give you more ideas on the types of jobs that are out there.  

Bonus job posting. The American Institute of Biological Sciences is hiring a public policy manager to direct the organization’s science-policy and communications initiatives. Applicants must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree (with an advanced degree preferred but not required) and five years of relevant experience. Applications will be reviewed starting Jan. 5 and on a continuing basis until the position is filled.

Donna Kridelbaugh is the ASBMB careers blogger. Connect with her on Twitter (@science_mentor) or at her website (