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Science Policy and Communication

The post du jour is by Paul Vallett, a grad student in physical chemistry  at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He’s got a shiny new blog called electron cafe where he discusses his research, energy, and science policy (I highly recommend the Explosion Fridays). So true to his usual topics, he wrote a bit for us about science policy. Share and enjoy.

A scientist turned science policy dude that you may have heard of: DOE Secretary Steven Chu. He's flanked in this picture by Congresswoman Anna Eshoo and former California State Controller Steve Westly. Image by flickr user jurveston.

When was the last time you attended a talk outside of your specific area of research? I study physical chemistry and recently went to a talk by Dr Paul Nurse, a 2001 Nobel Laureate in Physiology/Medicine. I don’t have a strong background in biochemistry, but background in biochemistry, but how often do you get the chance to hear a Nobel Laureate speak? I went with my whole lab group and found a packed auditorium. After the talk our lab heartily agreed that Dr.Nurse was an excellent speaker but that we all had no idea what he was really talking about. This is not meant to be a slight on Dr. Nurse, because I am sure that if he attended one of our physical chemistry seminars he would have a similar experience. Scientists and researchers typically can easily communicate within their own research community but those outside the community cannot penetrate the barrier of scientific terms, jargon, and basic knowledge of the field needed to achieve full understanding of the work.

If this is a problem for scientists who are from somewhat similar scientific disciplines, imagine the difficulty that someone without a scientific background will have when attempting to understand the importance of research results. This is a problem that plagues decision makers that require the findings of scientific research to create sound policy but do not have the time to sift through reams of published papers in an attempt to understand the results. This is where scientists who are able to have a deep understanding of research and can still communicate effectively with a broad audience are extremely valuable. Entering the field of science and technology policy is an option for those who wish to leave the laboratory behind but have a desire to use their technical background in a manner that has direct impact on policy decisions made.

Here are a few opportunities in policy that you can explore while enrolled in graduate school and after graduation.

Go into science policy and you too can meet interesting people in government. Jinormous belt buckles are optional.

Certificate Programs

Graduate certificates are earned alongside your normal degree, similar to a minor on an undergraduate degree and are meant to supplement your program’s coursework. Many graduate institutions now offer graduate certificates in the area of science and technology policy. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has a fairly complete listing of institutions offering such programs here. These are a great way to gain policy skills and backgrounds while demonstrating to potential employers that you have an interest in the world outside of your individual research area.


AAAS offers the prestigious Science and Technology Fellowship program. This year-long fellowship is open to all social and physical sciences, but requires you to have obtained a terminal degree in your field of study before applying. The fellows are placed in a number of different administrative offices, covering defense, energy, agriculture, and health services.

The National Academies offer the Christine Mirzayan Science and Technology Graduate Fellowship Program. They look for graduate students in a broad range of fields and fellows work with a mentor within the Academies on various policy projects. It is only a 12 week program, making it ideal for current graduate students.

Hi, this is Leigh again: I found one more–the ACS Public Policy fellowship. You have to be done with your degree and an ACS member to apply. Applications are due December 31, so get on it!

Thanks to Paul for a great post. I’m going to be profiling someone who received the ACS fellowship in the next couple of weeks, keep your eyes peeled for that.

1 Comment

  • [...] update, I have a guest post over at Just Another Electron Pusher’s blog on the CENtral Science blog network about science [...]

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