November 2010

A Career In Science Policy

To my surprise, journalistic writing became an essential part of my daily work at ASBMB. Under the excellent mentorship of the society’s public relations expert, Angela Hopp, my previous training blossomed. Monthly news stories for ASBMB Today quickly led to weekly pieces for the ASBMB Policy Blotter, the society’s science policy blog. The lessons also served me well while preparing policy briefs and memos on important issues. A skill I never imagined using became an essential part of getting ASBMB’s message out to members and policymakers.

My foray into journalism demonstrates that unlikely experiences can be an essential part of successfully transitioning into policy. Drawing upon all of your skills can help give you a head start in roles for which you haven’t been specifically trained.

Marketing Yourself

In a town of spin doctors and lobbyists, the reserved and introverted scientist can feel overwhelmed. A scientist expects his or her curriculum vitae, with all of its degrees, honors and publications, to speak for itself. But selling yourself is part of the policy game, and a successful transition requires that you be your own best advocate.

Interested in joining the field of science policy? 

Become an ASBMB science policy fellow. The formal application procedure begins in February 2011, but feel free to contact Geoffrey Hunt for more details, and to be informed when the application process has opened. Stay tuned to the ASBMB website for more details on how to apply.

First off, get out there and meet as many people as you can. Although you may have had a robust academic network, in the policy world, you likely are starting from scratch. I quickly lost track of how many receptions, happy hours and events I’d been to in Washington. But, they help you meet people and hone the “elevator speech” that describes you and your interests.

Of course, “networking” involves business cards. Lots of them. I carry them with me all the time, and I’m never shy about handing them out. If your school or organization doesn’t print them for you, Internet-based companies will for a small fee. They are a great way to remember a conversation, and it’s polite to exchange cards at the end of a talk or meeting.

In Washington, I quickly dispensed with my academic CV. Scientists like to list every award, publication, society and teaching position they have ever received. Most of that is irrelevant. Even when I listed my publications on my resume, no interviewer ever read them. I’ve now condensed my multipage academic monster to a clean 1 1/2-page version that is adapted to the position for which I am applying.

When I interview for positions, I make sure to tailor my resume and my answers to the specific position. Employers want to hear how your skills and experiences will benefit their organizations. An interviewer definitely will notice if you highlight your experience with an issue in which he or she is interested.

The Future

I learned a lot with ASBMB, but I’m just getting started. My new position allows me to contribute to policymaking from inside a federal agency and with a U.S. Senate committee. Although I’m still deciding where I’d like to end up in the long term, I can’t think of anything more worthwhile than using my education for the public good.

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