November 2009

From the Bench to the Capitol

Most of my lessons from my time at ASBMB are more mundane. I spent a lot of time reading about budget processes and regulatory proposals. Writing nontechnical information, with space at a premium, on a daily basis greatly has improved the quality of my writing. I also had the opportunity to benefit from the expertise of Peter Farnham, the members of ASBMB’s Public Affairs Advisory Committee and our collaborators at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.

"Most researchers know where to find the path from graduate school to an academic postdoc or a position in industry."

Most of all, I have enjoyed bringing members of ASBMB to the Hill. As a policy staff member, I was in the unique position of being an ambassador between our member scientists, who know technical information but are not as familiar with Congress, and congressional staff, who generally do not have a technical background. I always have been struck by our members’ enthusiasm and willingness to participate, and it was very rewarding to know that I had helped them get their messages across.

Early Career Insights

Every month or so, I receive an e-mail from someone looking for career advice.

Most researchers know where to find the path from graduate school to an academic postdoc or a position in industry. The path away from the bench seems murky by comparison. Job announcements request years of experience, and many of the scientists who have successfully made the jump to policy did so with the help of a highly competitive fellowship (such as ASBMB’s). The first position beyond the bench — that key credential that establishes one’s ability to succeed at something other than experimental science — can prove highly elusive.

I can’t claim to solve this problem, but perhaps I can offer some advice on how to look for the solutions.

Places to Go, Things to Do

The science policy field encompasses a wide variety of activities. Knowing which ones interest you will influence what types of jobs you pursue.

Advocacy organizations like ASBMB work to influence policy: budgets, regulations and all of the other news we cover in this magazine. The policymakers in Congress and relevant agencies are the most prominent audience for this sort of work, but they are not the only audience; communicating directly with the people you represent is equally important. The ASBMB Hill Day covered in this issue was possible only because of the efforts of society members in each of the target districts who responded to my requests for students and postdocs who would make excellent ambassadors for science.

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