November 2010

A Career In Science Policy


Former ASBMB Policy Fellow Kyle M. Brown offers a few impressions about what scientists can expect from a career in science policy. (Titled "Dr. Brown Goes to Washington" in print version.) 


Kyle M. Brown received his bachelor of science from Georgetown University and his doctorate in evolutionary genetics from Harvard University. He served as the 2009-2010 ASBMB science policy fellow and currently is the genetics and public policy fellow for the American Society for Human Genetics and the National Human Genome Research Institute. In November 2010, he will continue his fellowship with the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

When I decided to major in both biology and government in college, people said to me, “That’s a unique mix. What are you going to do with that?” I didn’t have a good answer until I discovered science policy. So, as my doctorate began to wrap up, I decided to embrace my two passions.

Fortunately, science policy is a viable and vibrant career choice for academically trained scientists. After a year as the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology science policy fellow, I offer a few impressions about what scientists can expect from a Washington, D.C. experience.

Policies and Priorities

Politicians and scientists often assert that there is a scientifically correct solution to every policy problem. While sitting in congressional hearings, I have heard members of Congress say “we should do what the science tells us.” Although scientific analysis is important for informing policy decisions, science is mute on which decisions are “best.”

Fundamentally, policymaking is about priorities. There is never enough time or resources to ensure that every meritorious program receives what it needs. Furthermore, policymakers rarely share the same priorities. Congressmen from Wichita and Los Angeles are likely to champion vastly different issues. Even federal agencies pursue certain policies over others based on the political priorities of the current administration.

Our national science policy is rife with such prioritizations. For example, biomedical and ecological research each receive vastly different amounts of federal funding. Also, although many lawmakers would like to stop global climate change, the country needs cheap and reliable sources of energy.

At ASBMB, I helped to shape the policy priorities in Washington. In meetings with congressmen and their staff, ASBMB members and I emphasized how biomedical research saves lives, creates jobs and increases American competitiveness. Because “all politics is local,” senators and representatives were keenly interested in the effects that research funding had on the economy and their districts.

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