Application Process for a Policy Fellow

By: Mara Olenick

Interested in pursuing science policy as a future career? Want to apply for a science policy fellowship in the future?! Well here is the skinny on some of the science policy fellowships out there from someone currently going through the application process.

First off, there are several fellowships in science policy available nowadays, at the state and federal level. The most well-known is the American Association of the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology Policy Fellowship. AAAS offers fellowships in all three branches of the federal government, with 2 legislative fellows, 1 judicial fellow, and more than 150 executive branch fellows placed each year. AAAS works with over 30 partner societies, including the American Chemical Society and the Biophysical Society, who sponsor individual fellows in the legislative and executive branch. States like New Jersey and California are also providing fellowships, which integrate scientists and engineers in state level policy. Additionally, there are some shorter fellowships that can be completed while you are in graduate school, like the NAS Christine Mirzayan Science & Technology Policy Graduate Fellowship Program, running three months every spring.

            Around the start of my fourth year at Penn, I decided that instead of pursuing a post-doc after my thesis I wanted to apply for science policy fellowships. Over the years, I talked to many AAAS fellows and fellows of similar science policy programs to glean advice and get an idea if it would be a good fit for me. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS! Each person has a different experience with the fellowships and it’s good to gather advice from as many people as possible.

For the actual application process, if you are coming straight from graduate school be aware of the application timelines. Most of these fellowships require a PhD to be completed before you can apply, so I planned my thesis defense to be in late summer of 2018 in order to apply by the Fall/Winter 2018 deadlines for the 2019-2020 fellowships (AAAS is due in Nov and society fellowships around Dec/Jan). Most applications require three recommendations, a personal statement, CV/resume, list of extracurricular activities and sometimes a supplementary writing sample. Individual societies may require the applicant to be a member of the society to be eligible, and recommendations must be from members of that society, so check the partnership society requirements to confirm eligibility.

For AAAS, you can apply to two of the branches. I applied to the legislative and the executive branch, in addition to the congressional fellowship through the Biophysical Society (BPS). I was fortunate to interview for the BPS fellowship and for the AAAS executive branch fellowship. For BPS, I interviewed in person at the annual society meeting in front of the public affairs committee which consisted of five people, two previous fellows and three academic faculty. They asked what my career goals and motivations were, how I would handle certain professional situations, and how I would explain my research to a member of congress. For the first round of AAAS, I had to write a one-page policy memo and interview via video chat in front of a selection committee of seven people from different federal agencies like the NIH, NSF, and academic institutions. At the start of the interview, I was given five minutes to present my policy memo. For the remainder of the interview, the committee asked about the memo and my life. Despite my nerves at the beginning, the conservations during both interviews were really enjoyable.

Currently, I am a finalist for the AAAS Executive branch fellowship. The next step is to spend a week in D.C. interviewing for placements. It will be an intense week, but I’m excited to meet the other finalists and potential placement hosts.  Stay tuned for a blog on my experience at finalist week!