Now that you know a little bit about what science policy is, and one way of
transitioning into science policy (the AAAS Science & Technology Fellowship
Program), I’d like to give you a little more information on how I changed
careers from being a bench scientist to a science policy professional.
The way I heard about science policy as a career was from a former AAAS
Science & Technology Policy Fellow, so that was the route I decided to take
(in a later post, I’ll talk about some other routes to science policy). I knew the application would be competitive,
but I was a few years away from getting my PhD, so I also knew I had some time
Since I was a graduate student, one of the first things I did was look up
what classes were available at the university. Once I did that, I quickly found
out that my university offered a “certificate” in health policy. I didn’t know the difference between science policy
and health policy, but I figured it was related enough. I also didn’t know if I would take all the
classes that were required to get the certificate, but I decided that since I
was looking at taking only one class for starters, I should at least choose a
class that would allow me to get the certificate later, once I knew more about
It was about one week into the semester, so I had to act quickly. I picked out three of the classes that were
on the list of courses for the certificate and I contacted the professors. One of them let me add the class even though
I had missed the first week. So I
enrolled in “Public Health Issues: Prevention and Management.” I loved the class and I got so much out of
it. What struck me most was the
experience of walking across campus in the middle of the day from the medical
center labs to the university classrooms.
I had forgotten how much of campus there actually was! And I had forgotten about all the activity that
goes on, outside of the lab! It was exhilarating.
Also, I had the opportunity to
broaden my network. I talked with the
professor and TA quite a bit. I think I
was the only graduate student in a class filled with undergrads, so it was easy
for them to see how interested I was in the topic. Two things happened next. First, I decided that I was going to go for
the certificate, which meant four more classes before graduation.
Second, I heard about the “Global Health Initiative” that was just
getting started at the university. I was
(and still am) very interested in global health issues and I knew that I wanted
to get involved in the initiative. I
took a look at the professors involved in the initiative and found that one of
them was the same professor that was teaching my public- health class. Since I already had a relationship with her,
I talked to her about getting involved.
Early in the next semester, when I was taking another class for the
certificate in addition to working in the lab, the professor contacted me and
offered me a position on one of the subcommittees for the Global Health
Initiative. I was overjoyed! I worked on the curriculum committee that was
tasked with developing an application to establish another certificate at the university
– this one would be in global health.
I attended one-hour meetings about twice a month and worked with a small
team to actually prepare the application.
I think it took almost a year (definitely more than one semester). It was probably the first real introduction I
had to the slowness that categorizes almost everything in administration and
management. But it was great because it
also gave me a “real” education.
By the time I applied for the fellowship, I had taken five classes,
gotten a health policy certificate, and been an integral member of the Global
Health Committee, which was primarily composed of faculty. I was able to prepare an application in which
I could articulate what it was that I liked and didn’t like about policy, and
why I wanted to participate in the fellowship.
My application was able to demonstrate that I was applying for the fellowship
because I had a genuine interest in science policy, and not just that I was
applying to “move away from the bench.”