Issue Date: November 11, 2013
Make An Impact: Become An ACS Public Policy Fellow
Wouldn’t it be amazing to be a fly on the wall in a Washington, D.C., congressional office, taking it all in while public policies are developed and voted on? Wouldn’t it be even better to contribute to discussions on the issues that Congress must address? I’m certain that many of you, like me, would like to help shape public policy and to communicate to policymakers the importance of chemistry to the U.S. economy and society.
Science and technology are integral to many questions in the policy arena. In addition, decisions by lawmakers have profound impacts on the U.S. scientific enterprise. But it can be difficult to make your voice heard in discussions about these issues, especially amid the current political turbulence. One of the goals of the ACS Committee on Chemistry & Public Affairs and the ACS Office of Public Affairs (OPA) is to connect chemists with policymakers. One important way that we accomplish this is through two Washington-based public policy fellowship programs: the ACS Congressional Fellowship program and the ACS Science Policy Fellowship program.
These public policy fellowships serve a dual purpose. Fellows bring their scientific knowledge and scientific approach to problem solving to the policy-making process. In return, the fellows gain a deep understanding of that process and the many factors that influence it.
Congressional fellows spend one year working in a legislator’s personal office or for a House of Representatives or Senate committee, where they typically serve as legislative assistants. This means that they advise staff and members of Congress on a variety of science policy issues, and they interact with constituents. The ACS program is part of a broader effort administered by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), through which more than 30 scientists serve as congressional fellows each year. Fellows choose a congressional office on the basis of their own interests and the focus and needs of those offices. AAAS and ACS provide support during the placement process.
The second program, the ACS Science Policy Fellowship, places one ACS member at the society’s headquarters in Washington. The fellow works with experienced OPA staff to provide relevant scientific information to policymakers, to develop and advocate for specific policy recommendations on issues that affect the chemical enterprise, and to involve ACS members in this process. The fellowship is an opportunity to learn about government affairs and to gain a deep understanding of science policy from the perspective of the scientific community. It also provides OPA with a source of technical expertise.
In both programs, fellows connect with a community of scientists who work in policy, many of whom are former fellows themselves. Congressional fellowships begin with an intensive, two-week orientation that provides an overview of the federal policy-making process and includes briefings from influential political scholars, top government officials, and prominent journalists. Science policy fellows attend a similar program shortly after they begin. ACS and AAAS provide ongoing professional development activities, including educational seminars, career workshops, and networking opportunities. Congressional fellows are paid a competitive stipend (between $74,000 and $84,000 per year, depending on experience), plus allowances for relocation, travel, and health insurance. Science policy fellows receive compensation and benefits similar to ACS staff.
The fellowships are open to any ACS member who holds a Ph.D., or a master’s degree with equivalent experience. Past fellows have represented a variety of backgrounds and career stages within the chemical sciences. You can find brief profiles of the 2013–14 ACS Congressional Fellows in C&EN (Oct. 28, page 39) and an inside look at a year as a congressional fellow in Laura Pence’s blog “Dr. Pence Goes to Washington” (drpence.wordpress.com).
In general, successful applicants share a keen interest in public policy, strong written and verbal communication skills, and a desire to apply their scientific training to influence policy-making. Samuel Bockenhauer, a 2013–14 congressional fellow, describes why he applied for the fellowship by saying, “I wanted to work on large, complex problems and apply my knowledge to collaborative work on gigantic problems with broad impact. Although I greatly enjoyed fundamental science research, I also wanted to engage my broader interests in the ‘big picture’ of science-related public policy.”
Other recent fellows say they learned that “one person can indeed make a difference” and that science “pervades almost all policy decisions we face.” With this experience, about one-third of former fellows have returned to their previous positions with a fresh outlook, one-third have remained in public policy careers, and one-third have pursued other opportunities.
Applications for both fellowships are due on Dec. 31. If you share the motivations of past fellows and want to gain firsthand experience in policy-making, I encourage you to consider applying. You can find more information at www.acs.org/policyfellow or by calling OPA at (202) 872-4387. This could be a unique and exciting opportunity for you to make an impact!
Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.
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