Careers in Public Policy for Scientists

Note: many of the career opportunities in public policy in the U.S. are in Washington D.C., so a willingness to relocate can be critical for this career.

Why Public Policy?
Gregory E. van der Vink of the Incorporated Research Institutions of Seismology explains the importance of having scientists choose careers in Public Policy in his editorial in Science (May 97) entitled "Scientifically Illiterate vs. Politically Clueless." (Note: you may access this article for free at the Science Magazine website, but a password is needed, which requires registration.)

Information Sources
Center for Science, Technology, and Congress. As part of the AAAS's Directorate for Science Policy Programs, the CSTC's role is to "provide timely, objective information to Congress on current science and technology issues and assists the science and engineering community in understanding and working with Congress." The Center's online bulletin, Science & Technology in Congress is published 8 times yearly. Each issue contains a half dozen 1-2 page stories about science and technology issues currently before the U.S. Congress. You can also check on the status of major sci-tech related legislation. AAAS also sponsors an annual meeting on U.S. science and technology policy.

Science policy makers. Read descriptions of the public policy careers of five scientists at Science magazine's NextWave web site. (Note: the NextWave web site will charge for access effective Sept 1998.)

How does a molecular biologist get to be a science policy advisor? Personal essay.

Fellowships and Internships
National Research Council Science and Technology Policy Graduate Student/Postdoctorate Internship Program. Ten-week summer program for graduate and postdoc level scientists in the sciences and social sciences. Recipients receive $3500 stipends for their summer stint in Washington D.C. at the NRC. Internships are often assigned in a field other than the applicant's specialty. Approximately 20 internships are awarded annually. Postdoc applicants need to be within five years of receiving their Ph.D.s.

Center for Science, Technology, and Congress. Internships in science policy are sometimes listed at the CPST site, which is described above.

AAAS Fellowships for Scientists and Engineers. AAAS offers fellowships for Ph.D.s in six different areas: Congressional, Diplomacy, Risk Assessment, Technology Policy, Defense Policy, and Environmental. Fellowships are for one year (except for the 10 week summer Environmental program) at various governmental agencies in Washington D.C. Diplomacy fellows, for example, spend their year at either the Department of State or the Agency for International Development. Stipends range from $42,000-$47,000 per year. The fellowship programs are "designed to provide each Fellow with a unique public policy learning experience; to make practical contributions to the more effective use of scientific and technical knowledge in the U.S. government; and to demonstrate the value of science and technology in solving important societal problems."

Comment: these fellowships can really be the ticket to making a career change into public policy. I have talked with a half dozen former fellows in the AAAS program, and after their one year fellowship was up all were able either to retain their positions or find another policy position in Washington because of the contacts they had made during their year on the job. Fellows stressed repeatedly that a key benefit of the fellowship was the contacts in the policy world that they were able to make.

Scientific Societies
Many scientific societies have public policy programs that provide scientific and technical information relating to their disciplines to government officials. Their public policy web sites can have links of use to scientists in specific disciplines considering careers in public policy.

Public Policy Page of the American Astronomical Association.
Government Affairs Program of the American Geological Institute.
Government Affairs Program of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.
Science Policy Page of the American Mathematical Society.
Public Affairs Page of the American Physiological Society.

Degree Programs
Guide to Graduate Education in Science, Engineering and Public Policy. If you want to do another degree, this AAAS resource provides a good listing of graduate programs within the U.S. Unfortunately, this page has severe flaws; many of the hyperlinks for the graduate programs are not functional as of this writing (10/97).

A few programs:
Center for International Science and Technology Policy at George Washington University. Offers both M.A. and Ph.D. programs.
Program in Science, Technology, and Public Policy at Princeton University. Offers M.P.A. and Ph.D. degrees.
MIT Technology and Policy Program. Offers M.S. degree that "prepares students for practical work in government and industry."
University of Minnesota Institute of Public Affairs. M.S. degree in Science and Technology Policy.


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Last updated September 21, 2000.