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:
- 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 in chemistry,” Stefanie says. “But I have to admit – at that point I still didn’t know where I wanted to end up after grad school; I just knew that a Ph.D. could help open a lot of doors to a variety of careers.”
Stefanie is having a blast as a science policy fellow, but a job in science policy was not on her radar until towards the end of her graduate studies.
“I was, like most students, considering a ‘traditional’ path through either academia or industry,” Stefanie says. “After a couple of years of graduate school, I was starting to lean more toward a career in industry. I started to attend many career seminars and began to seriously think more about what other options might be out there.”
Long story short, she met an ACS science policy fellow at a chemistry careers symposium during her third year of grad school.
“After talking with her, as well as some UIUC alumni awarded the AAAS Fellowship, I decided to apply for the program,” Stefanie says. “I also pursued career opportunities in industry as well, at the same time I was applying for the Fellowship – it was definitely wise to try and have all my bases covered.”
“I chose to apply thinking of the Fellowship as more of a post-doctoral training experience, not as just a job out of graduate school,” Stefanie explains. “The fellowship program offers professional development and training, opportunities for networking, and the chance to interact with a peer group considering similar career options.”
Even though Stefanie isn’t entirely sure what her next steps will be career-wise, she is certain her experiences as fellow with AAAS will have a lasting impact on her career.
“I believe the network I have built and the opportunities I have had through my fellowship are the best way I could have gotten the experience I need to pursue a career in this area,” Stefanie says. Having the experience and connections she made will be invaluable as she seeks out future opportunities.
Advice for chemists interested in policy
Stefanie says that one thing that helped her was to talk to my research advisor and career counselor about her interest in science policy early on.
“I was lucky that my advisor was supportive of my exploring a variety of career options, and even offered to introduce me to some of his contacts in Washington, DC,” Stefanie says. “My career counselor was able to provide assistance in developing my application and putting together a great resume.”
Getting a Ph.D. in science is one of many paths into a career in science policy, as others competing for science policy jobs have degrees in policy. Because of this, it’s crucial to build a network and get help building your resume “to shape your experience in grad school the best way,” Stefanie says.
Stefanie advises students to get as much experience as they can while they are in grad school, in activities that “demonstrate your ability to work with others, lead programs/projects, and show a range of interests.”
Also, talk to as many people as possible in the field and learn as much as you can about opportunities that are available, Stefanie says.
How the chemistry Ph.D. prepared her for the job
For one, having a Ph.D. helped Stefanie because the AAAS policy fellowship requires a Ph.D. or equivalent degree for all S&T fellows. But it’s more than that. I’ll let Stefanie tell you about her grad school experience in her own words:
“Government offices are looking for people with technical expertise that they can apply in a new situation (shifting directions in my research half-way through my time in graduate school). They are looking for people who are able to analyze and share technical information with a variety of audiences (presenting my research at a variety of conferences; writing papers). My job requires me to quickly work through large amounts of information and pull out the most critical parts, and then present them in a way that makes sense (data analysis). Also, because my job has me working with international laboratories and the personnel there, the ability to understand how science is done in the laboratory helps me to relate to the people I interact with, something I wouldn’t be able to do if I only had policy experience.”
What if I’m not sure I want to commit to a 2-year science policy job?
If you’re on the fence about a career in science policy, or are simply curious about the field but are unable to commit a year to working as a science policy fellow, the good news is there are other opportunities that might be more appealing to you.
One example is the Christine Mirzayan S&T Policy Graduate Fellowship Program. Also check out the AAAS website for a list of many more science policy fellowship programs.
“Participating in a program like this could be a good way to get some experience, and figure out if this is really an area of interest,” Stefanie says.
And as I mentioned yesterday in my science policy post, there are several ways scientists can get involved in science policy matters. Volunteering with your local government and contacting policy makers to express your scientific opinion on science policy matters are two great ways to see if you’re passionate about policy work, and start building your network with people in government.