A chemist at the intersection of science and policy
Feb24

A chemist at the intersection of science and policy

Profile: Stefanie Bumpus (Ph.D., 2010), AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow Today I’d like to introduce you to a Ph.D. chemist who is currently a Science & Technology (S&T) Fellow with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)—Stefanie Bumpus. Stefanie has been working for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) as an S&T Fellow since September 2010. Day to day, Stefanie’s work varies considerably—it all depends on what assignment she has at the time. Some days she is working on building good working relationships with U.S. Government and international partners and collaborators. “This includes things such as conducting meetings to discuss planned or ongoing projects, or working to develop strategic documents for the program,” Stefanie says. There are four different concentration areas of the fellowship: Congressional Health, Education, and Human Services Diplomacy, Security, and Development Energy, Environment, and Agriculture. As an S&T policy fellow on the Diplomacy, Security, and Development track at the DoD, Stefanie supports the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs (NCB). Within the NCB, Stefanie is currently doing a rotation in the Office of Threat Reduction and Arms Control (TRAC). As a part of this rotation, she supports a program that “works to ensure international partner governments have the capacity to detect, report, and respond to biological incidents as efficiently and effectively as possible,” Stefanie says. At the TRAC office, one of Stefanie’s roles is to work with the partner governments to “ensure laboratories and other facilities maintain the highest sustainable levels of biosafety and biosecurity,” she explains. One of Stefanie’s favorite parts of her job thus far is being able to travel the world. “Typically, I spend about one week per month traveling to Africa to meet with our partners and collaborators and continue to develop our programs,” Stefanie says. So far, she has traveled to Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Djibouti, and South Africa, as well as the United Kingdom, Vietnam, and numerous locations throughout the U.S. Before becoming a AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow Stefanie got her Bachelor’s Degree in chemistry from the University of Louisville in Kentucky, and then went on to earn her Ph.D. in chemistry (2010) from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Coming out of high school, her initial plan was to study chemistry or biology and then go to med school. But in college, she met a “wonderful professor in the chemistry department,” and was convinced to major in chemistry and do undergraduate research in biochemistry. “Three years of undergraduate research helped me learn I didn’t really want to go to medical school, but instead wanted to pursue an advanced degree...

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Opportunities for chemists in science policy
Feb23

Opportunities for chemists in science policy

Here at JAEP we’ve been on the topic of government jobs for chemists. Glen wrote a post about a website, INSPIRE, that is full of information about government jobs for scientists. It is being piloted for a short time, so if you haven’t yet, check it out here and take the survey to help them improve the site. And earlier this week, I introduced you to Olen Stephens, a Ph.D. chemist who works for the FDA in regulatory affairs. Today, we will segue a bit and discuss the field of science policy. What is science policy? Science policy is a field that is difficult to define because it encompasses lots of different types of work at the intersection of science and public policy. I’ll use an excerpt from an article I found by Geoffrey Hunt to break the common misconceptions about science policy: “Most people assume policymakers spend all of their time furtively hammering out laws in back rooms. In reality, those working in science policy have the opposite job: They take what is happening on the bench and bring it to the light of day… Science policy experts …[use] their talents to find ways to translate esoteric, often highly technical scientific issues into something that can be sold as good policy.” For more information on science policy careers, check out the following Science Careers articles: Science Policy: Establishing Guidelines, Setting Priorities, by Laura Haak. Paths to Science Policy, by James Austin. Bridging the Worlds of Science and Public Policy, by Andrew Fazekas. There are several organizations that sponsor scientists and engineers to work in science policy—check out this list of policy fellowships compiled at The Intersection, a blog for Discover Magazine. One of these organizations, which I’ll highlight here, is the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology (S&T) Policy Fellowships. Tomorrow I’ll follow up with a profile post about a Ph.D. chemist who’s currently an S&T Policy Fellow at the United States Department of Defense, so stay tuned for that! AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowship AAAS started up the fellowship program in 1973 to help scientists get the opportunity “to participate in and contribute to the federal policymaking process while learning firsthand about the intersection of science and policy,” according to their website. To date, more than 2,000 scientists and engineers have gone through the program. Check out their website for a complete overview of the history of the fellowship. To apply, you must have a Ph.D. or an equivalent doctoral-level degree, or have a Master’s degree in engineering with several years of professional experience. Click here for more details about eligibility and the...

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Ensuring drug safety: A chemist in regulatory affairs
Feb21

Ensuring drug safety: A chemist in regulatory affairs

Profile: Olen Stephens, Ph.D. chemist, chemical and manufacturing controls reviewer at the Food and Drug Administration. A few weeks back, Glen wrote a post about a website, INSPIRE, which is chock-full of information about government jobs for scientists. If you haven’t yet, check it out here. There’s still time to take the survey that will help them improve their site. As promised, here is the first of two profile posts about chemists currently working for the federal government. Today I’d like you to meet Olen Stephens, a Ph.D. chemist who works in regulatory affairs. From academia into government Olen Stephens always thought he wanted to be a college professor, but after giving it a try, he realized it wasn’t the job for him. Now he works in regulatory affairs at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and says he loves his job and the work-life balance it allows him. I should also mention that Olen and I share a family connection. He’s my mother-in-law’s sister’s son, a.k.a. my husband’s cousin! Olen was a double major in chemistry and biology at Earlham College and went on to get a Ph.D. in biological chemistry from the University of Utah (2004). After a postdoc in biophysical chemistry at Yale University, he landed a tenure-track professorship position at his alma mater, Earlham College. As a chemistry professor, Olen taught organic chemistry, biochemistry and general chemistry. But the job was “not a good fit on either side,” he says. “Teaching wasn’t what I thought it was,” Olen says. The combination of teaching, grant writing, and conducting research left little time to spend with his wife and newborn son. At the same time, Olen says he wasn’t interested in working in industry either. In his first year teaching at Earlham, Olen met another Earlham alumnus who worked at the FDA.  Later, when Olen was looking for a career change, she told him about a position they were looking to fill. Five months later, Olen had landed the job and his family moved to the Washington, D.C. area, and the rest is history. Regulatory affairs– What’s that all about? Olen has been working as a chemical and manufacturing controls reviewer since 2008 and finds his career both challenging and rewarding. At the FDA, Olen works as part of a team to review drug applications and identify safety issues that need to be addressed before drugs can be administered to humans. The job requires a lot of reading and writing, which Olen says he enjoys and was well-equipped for, thanks to the liberal arts education he received at Earlham as an undergrad. There was a huge learning curve when...

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Website helps scientists learn about careers within Federal agencies
Jan31

Website helps scientists learn about careers within Federal agencies

As an individual currently employed in the private sector, I must admit to a wide breadth of ignorance regarding what employment opportunities may exist for a scientist within a Federal government agency. It would I appear that my own personal lack of knowledge regarding government science positions is shared by many others, and this has not gone unnoticed by the very Federal agencies who are in need of top scientists to fill these roles. Seeking to bring attention to the variety of science and technology (S&T) opportunities available, a pilot website, INSPIREST (careers.science.gov) has been created. The website was developed through a collaboration of six Federal agencies—the Department of Energy (DOE), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Department of Labor (DOL), Department of State (DOS), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)—along with the Partnership for Public Service—and they would like your help in directing its mission to provide useful information to prospective employees at all stages of their careers. INSPIREST was created in response to a perceived lack of general awareness and understanding of the opportunities in the Federal government for scientists and engineers, but this was not the only factor. Other challenges to nurturing a vital S&T workforce include: increased vacancies of key positions due to growing retirements within the “baby boomer” generation, and competition with the private sector for top talent. The website’s creators also recognized that USAJOBS.gov—the primary avenue for applying to science and engineering positions for most Federal agencies—had a limited ability to communicate what jobs are available and what these jobs are really like. I, for one, am grateful that a need was recognized to create a site like this. When I was going through my job search last year, government positions were definitely on my radar, and a few emerged from job search engine queries. I found that gathering information on and applying for these position were long, convoluted ordeals. INSPIREST seeks to demystify that process. The INSPIREST website currently consists of three main sections. The Profiles section contains interviews with scientists, engineers, and technology specialists (actual people—including chemists and chemical engineers! Here, here and, yes, here) who currently have jobs “related to National priorities such as energy, discovery science, space exploration, national security, international diplomacy, and U.S. competitiveness in the 21st century,” according to the website. The Resources section contains, not unexpectedly, resources. Okay, about what? Well, you can find information extolling the benefits of public service and the Federal employment experience. There is also key information and resources for finding Federal positions and applying for them. There is also a section highlighting the six participating...

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A chemist’s journey through academia, government, industry, and into medical writing
Apr25

A chemist’s journey through academia, government, industry, and into medical writing

You may have been told at some point in your life that if you want to get a steady job in the future you should go into science, because that’s where the money is. With this line of thinking, Kelly Keating, who was just as interested in creative writing as she was science and math, opted for the “sure thing” in college and chose to major in chemistry. After a B.S., Ph.D., and several jobs that took her through academia, government and industry, she is now an Editor and Medical Writer for the Pharmaceutical Research Institute (PRI), a non-profit organization within the Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in Albany, NY. Go figure, huh? While you couldn’t call Kelly’s path into medical writing “traditional”, I think all the twists and turns along the way make her story so interesting. And it turns out that it wasn’t a waste to have taken the long windy road to where she has ended up, because along the way she was picking up all kinds of skills, the transferrable kind I wrote about in my last post. Some people know what they want to do from the get-go and go after that. But most of us, I think, navigate and jump around from one thing to another until we figure out what we want. And that’s perfectly okay. So, as I was saying, Kelly’s story just goes to show that there’s no one way to break into a non-traditional science career. In a nutshell, here’s her career path leading up to medical writing: B.S. in chemistry (U.W. Madison, 1983) A few years of basic research Ph.D. in chemistry (U.C. Davis, 1991) Post-doc in NMR spectroscopy One year at small biotech company Visiting Scientist in an NMR group at a national lab NMR spectroscopist and lab manager for a larger pharmaceutical company Then, when she and her husband moved to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) for his job, she started a freelance medical writing business and taught part-time at a local college. The toughest thing for Kelly initially was having no medical writing experience. It’s one of those Catch-22 things: you can’t get hired if you don’t have experience, but you can’t get experience if you never get a job! By being willing to be flexible, Kelly got the experience she needed by doing some freelance grant and manuscript editing for the science departments at UIUC. When her husband received a great job opportunity in Albany, NY, they moved. Shortly after, she landed her current medical writing job. “And simply by luck the month we moved here the job I have...

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Profile: Congressional Legislative Assistant
Dec27

Profile: Congressional Legislative Assistant

Will O’Neal is, in no particular order, a PhD chemist, a former ACS Congressional fellow, and a Congressional Legislative Assistant for Representative Rush Holt. “Basically,” O’Neal said, “I am a policy advisor for anything that relates to energy policy, science, research and development, nuclear security, and foreign affairs.” As a Legislative Assistant O’Neal’s work is highly varied, but heavy on the research and writing, usually involving current events. And it’s mostly, as you might guess, advising. “I keep the Congressman informed about policy developments or news that affects my legislative portfolio. I write talking points and background materials on upcoming bills and for legislative hearings or floor action in the House. I prepare the Congressman for public events and staff him at meetings. I develop policy proposals and draft legislation. I meet with interest groups and constituents,” O’Neal said. And as you also might imagine, a lot of this work is short deadline and highly depends on the news of the day. So it’s a pretty far cry from doing research in a lab. But even so, that doctoral training comes in pretty handy. “The skills you learn in science – how to think skeptically about the world, do research, and write – are universal,” O’Neal said. “I have to do really fast research on a daily basis, and I have to be able to pick out what is reliable information and what isn’t. Then I have to be able to summarize it quickly in a way that anyone can understand.” O’Neal is happy with his chosen career, although working in Congress can be both rewarding and frustrating, he said. “This job offered the chance to learn new things everyday on an array of different topics and to share that work in a way has a direct impact on our society,” O’Neal said. “But I think overall, the most important thing that is missing in my job is the time to really dig into a topic and gain some depth and expertise. I think if I had more opportunity to delve deeper into certain subjects I could be a better asset to my boss.” O’Neal never was really interested in industry, and although he liked teaching, didn’t think he’d make a good academic. He learned of careers in public policy by seeing a poster in his grad school hallway advertising the AAAS Policy Fellowship program. While still in grad school, O’Neal got involved in the Rockefeller Center for Public Policy. After finishing his PhD, he taught for a year at the Center and managed the Policy Research Shop, “which is a great program that allows undergraduate students to do...

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