Finding Your Post-Ph.D. Path: Science Policy Careers

Are you passionate about funding for Science? Have you even been curious about how the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or the National Science Foundation (NSF) funds grants? If you answered yes to any of these questions then you might be interested in a career in Science Policy.

Science policy

I recently attended a policy career panel at the 2015 Science Communication and Outreach Career Symposium at the University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio (UTHSCSA). The panel was composed of several experts in science policy who discussed topics such as: how to get involved in science policy (either locally or nationally) and how to get a job in science policy.

The panel was moderated by Dr. Hudson Freeze, the director of the human genetics program at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute. Members of the panel included Dr. Tom Baldwin, Executive Associate Dean for External Relations, University of California Riverside, Dr. Bettie Sue Masters, Robert A. Welsh Foundation Distinguished Chair in Chemistry at UTHSCSA, Dr. Jamie Vernon, Director of Science Communications and Publications at Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society, and Editor-in-Chief of the American Scientist Magazine, and Sharon Milgram, Director of Office of Intramural Training and Education at the NIH.

The panelists first discussed how they became involved in science policy. Drs. Freeze, Baldwin, and Masters all became involved in science policy while running their own labs. They wanted to improve science funding and appreciation at both the state and national level. This prompted advocating for the importance of science funding to state and national legislators. Dr. Vernon, on the other hand, became involved in science policy while he was in graduate school and then went on to be an American Association for Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology Fellow at the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. As a director at NIH Dr. Milgram is very interested in public policy concerning the NIH budget.

The main focus of the panel discussion was how to get a job in policy after obtaining a Ph.D. in science. The panelists all advocated for applying to science policy fellowships. It was noted that no two policy fellowships are the same. Therefore, they stressed the importance of doing your homework when researching fellowships to apply to. Places that commonly offer policy fellowships for Ph.Ds are The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB), The California Council of Science and Technology (CCST), and The Archer Center, which is part of the University of Texas system.

The panelists also recommended getting involved in policy either locally or nationally in order to be competitive for the fellowship applications. Some ways they suggested would be to apply for “Hill Days” in which different societies bring scientist to Washington D.C. to meet with lawmakers and discuss important scientific issues. They also suggested getting involved with the people at your institution who are in charge of scientific policy issues effecting the institution. In Texas, one way to get involved is through the Academy of Medicine, Engineering, and Science of Texas (TAMEST).

Lastly, the panel emphasized the importance of science communication and outreach for people interested in a career in public policy. They agreed that an important skill in science policy careers is writing for non-scientists. Therefore, learning to communicate scientific concepts to non-scientists is critical for a strong application. They mentioned that ways to work on these skills would be to start a blog or attend scientific outreach events coordinated by your school.

Generally, a career in science policy is ideal for a person who is very passionate about improving STEM funding and education, has great communication skills, and loves learning and analyzing a wide variety of information. It is also hard to start a career in science policy without spending some time in Washington D.C., so a career in science policy is better suited for people with flexible living situations. This panel at the 2015 Science Communication and Outreach Career Symposium at UTHSCSA was very informative and had great career advice. For anyone interested in a career in science policy I would highly recommend attending in the future.

Editor: Chris Hensley

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