Science policy fellowships: Creating your application packet

Most fellowship application materials tend to be rather similar. The standard application packet includes a resume, reference letters and a statement. Some fellowships ask for additional materials such as a list of volunteer experiences or a writing sample. To make it to the next stage of the selection process — the interview — you will need to convince the evaluators of your interest in science policy and your qualifications through these three documents.

The most important thing to keep in mind when developing your packet is the fellowship’s evaluation criteria. Most fellowships (AAAS is one exception) put little emphasis on your scientific credentials, so do not use too much space discussing these. Most desire strong communication skills and a demonstrated interest in science policy. Scientists have experiences — in and outside the lab — that are relevant to policy. Teaching a course gives you communication skills; mentoring a student teaches you leadership. Talking to past fellows will also give you an idea of the traits evaluators seek. Regardless of what these are, you should craft your entire packet around these qualifications and demonstrate how you meet or exceed them.


Your resume is not your standard science CV and should be curated to include only relevant information. If you are finishing graduate school, there should be minimal information from college. There are many acceptable formats for a resume, and the web is a great resource. However, if you have access to a career counselor, I would recommend seeking their help with your resume. I based my resume off my counselor’s advice, and it included eight sections:

  • Summary of qualifications — a brief statement (three–four lines) summarizing your background.
  • Highlights — bullet points (three–five) listing your major accomplishments.
  • Education — his should include all of your degrees, including the dates earned, institutions and their locations and, for a Ph.D., the thesis title and advisor’s name.
  • Professional Experience — Calling this section “professional experience” allows you to include unpaid activities that contributed to your qualifications. In addition to the basics (title, organization, dates worked), you should include enough information so the evaluator can understand the position and your major accomplishments.
  • Honors and Awards
  • Publications
  • Abstracts — can be easily cut if resume exceeds the fellowship’s page limit.
  • Memberships

Reference letters

Most fellowships require two or three letters of reference. A 15-minute conversation with your references will go a long way in helping them portray you favorably to a science policy fellowship selection committee. While it is fine for letters to include information about your scientific credentials, references must speak to your interest in policy and your qualifications for the fellowship. When you ask your references to write for you, give them your new resume and the fellowship’s evaluation criteria. It is also advisable to provide them with writing points about your qualifications.


Surprise! The statement is the most important part of your application packet and should emphasize how you meet the evaluation criteria. Most applications give you 1,000 words to answer the following questions:

  • Why are you applying for this particular program?
  • What are your career goals, and how will this fellowship support these goals?
  • What specific policy issues interest you?
  • What do you hope to accomplish as a fellow?
  • What are your qualifications for this program?

The basic writing rules still apply here. Follow the directions exactly. Make sure your entire statement is error-free. Fellowships are competitive, and grammar and punctuation mistakes make you seem careless. You should answer all of the questions and give specific examples to reinforce your claims.

Beyond the basics, your statement should indicate an understanding of science policy. While you may have no formal policy experience, you can do research and talk to science policy professionals to better appreciate the field. I cannot overstate how important this research is. As I noted in the first part of this series, determining why you want to pursue a career in science policy is imperative. Combine this information into a persuasive statement that answers the application questions.

Once your application materials are prepared, you should convert everything to a PDF and carefully check a printed copy for errors. Did you follow all the instructions? Do not be the person who submits a PDF with the tracked changes evident. Next, go back to the evaluation criteria and statement questions. Have you explicitly answered all the questions and given evidence of meeting the evaluation criteria? Make your answers obvious. Finally, if you are submitting to an email address, ask for a reply to ensure they received your materials. Now comes the hard part — waiting several months for a response!