Issue Date: November 12, 2007
As the 2008 national election season gains momentum, it is impossible to ignore the fundamental role science and technology play in public policy. Policymakers routinely make decisions—in areas such as global climate change, energy policy, and homeland security—that impact and require input from the chemical community.
Yet few of our elected officials have formal training in these areas (only 5% of the members of Congress have backgrounds in science or engineering), and scientists often lack the opportunity and expertise to successfully engage in the policy process.
For more than 30 years, the American Chemical Society has been working to address this problem through two public policy fellowship programs that provide a unique opportunity for ACS members to gain practical experience and insights into public policy.
If you have a sincere interest in the policy process and have wondered how you could make a difference in influencing science policy, I urge you to consider serving as a fellow on Capitol Hill or at ACS offices in Washington, D.C.
The ACS Congressional Fellowship Program is part of a broader effort administered by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which places more than 30 scientists per year in congressional staff positions. This program has two main goals: Provide policymakers with high-quality information on science-related issues and educate scientists on how the government works and how science policy is made.
Fellows join the congressional staff of their choice, with placement support provided by ACS and AAAS. They typically serve as legislative assistants, advising staff and members of Congress on a range of science policy issues and interacting with constituents.
Former ACS Congressional Fellows have worked in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. They have been placed on the staffs of individual members, such as of key committee chairs and the office of the majority leader; committees in the House, such as the Homeland Security and Armed Services Committees; and committees in the Senate, such as the Energy & Natural Resources and Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committees.
The fellows have had assignments in important science-related areas as diverse as environmental issues, science education, health and energy policy, and federal funding for scientific research.
The ACS Science Policy Fellowship Program places one fellow in the ACS Office of Legislative & Government Affairs (OLGA) for one to two years. The fellow works with experienced OLGA staff to provide information to policymakers on the role of science in public policy, advance specific recommendations on issues affecting the chemical enterprise, and inform and involve ACS members in the policy process.
In previous years, science policy fellows have played an important role in organizing ACS's Science & the Congress Project, a highly acclaimed program that provides expert panel briefings and educational information to congressional staff on topics ranging from "Science & Technology in the Intelligence Community" to "Partnering for Results in Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM)."
The fellowships begin with an intensive eight-day orientation that provides an overview of the federal policy-making process and briefings from influential political scholars, top government officials, and prominent journalists.
Ongoing professional development and support activities, including educational seminars and networking opportunities, are supplied by ACS and AAAS throughout the program. Fellows are provided with a competitive stipend ($70,000–$80,000 per year, depending on experience) plus allowances for relocation, travel, and health insurance. Fellows may also receive additional financial assistance, such as sabbatical leave support from their employer, with prior ACS approval.
Fellows come from a wide variety of backgrounds within the chemical sciences—including academia, industry, and the nonprofit sector—and may be entry-level Ph.D.-holders or experienced professionals.
After completing their fellowships, approximately one-third of the fellows have remained in public policy careers, another third have returned to their previous positions, and the rest have pursued new opportunities.
The common denominator for all ACS Fellows has been a keen interest in public policy coupled with a desire to apply their scientific training to help improve the federal decision-making process. If you share these interests and goals, I encourage you to consider applying for one of these positions.
As stated by Kristin Omberg, a current member of the ACS Committee on Chemistry & Public Affairs and a 1998–99 Congressional Fellow: "If you have a passion for science and for policy, and if you want to help ACS and our country move forward in the science policy arena, this is the program for you. It's an incredible opportunity to learn how Washington works, and I guarantee it's an experience you'll never forget!"
Applications for ACS Congressional and Public Policy Fellowships are due Dec. 31. More information on the programs and the application process can be obtained online at www.acs.org/policy or by contacting OLGA at (202) 872-4387.
Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.
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