Post-PhD Careers: Science Policy Advisor

What is a Science Policy Advisor?

Politicians at the federal, state, and local levels need to make scientifically informed decisions, but they may lack competent scientific advisors. One way to help alleviate that problem is by becoming a government scientific policy advisor. A scientific policy advisor helps legislators and others to make scientifically informed decisions and policies. This often requires communicating scientific findings to the public, a skill that many don’t acquire in graduate school. Because many scientists don’t have the core skills needed for these jobs, there are a lot of postdoctoral fellowships in this area (see below). Beyond science policy, these skills are probably very useful for administrative positions in academia, e.g., dean.

Ultimately, I’m not interested in doing this full time. Among other concerns, I fear I’d become rather frustrated by politicians failing to take scientifically informed advice, and instead favoring the input of lobbyists serving special interests and corporations. I do think this would be a noble career, and I’d be happy to moonlight as a policy consultant. But… my passion is in curiosity-driven research.

How to Become a Science Policy Advisor

The best way to pursue this career is to apply for and win a postdoctoral fellowship in science and technology policy advising. These differ a lot from traditional postdocs. You are likely to work for a governmental agency and will be mentored by senior policy advisors. Consider the US Presidential Management Fellows Program. It is a two year appointment in which you are assigned to a particular Federal agency where you will directly work on policy problems with mentors. They also give you 160 hours of classroom training on leadership, management, and policy. The connections you make at the agency already put you on the track to climbing the science policy advisor career ladder.

To get a postdoc in science policy soon after your PhD, you should start reviewing the available fellowships at least a year before you graduate. Most of the fellowships appear to be due in the Fall. After completing your fellowship you should have the training required to pursue this career as well as the network that you will need to get a job. You could also apply for these fellowships during a more traditional postdoc.

To further enhance your success, during your PhD you should seek out leadership opportunities. You would also benefit from gaining experience in communicating complex scientific ideas in a way that can be understood by non-scientists. Some universities have public policy degree programs, and you may want to take or audit courses in these programs.

List of Postdoctoral Fellowships in Science & Technology Policy Advising

The existing lists of science policy postdoctoral fellowships are disorganized, and it is hard to tell by the name of a fellowship alone what scientific discipline should apply. So I decided to organize them.

General Science

AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships (US)
[Need to be a US citizen with a doctorate]

National Academies Christine Mirzayan Science & Technology Policy Graduate Fellowship Program (US)
[Open to non-US and US citizens; must have completed graduate studies within the past five years]

Presidential Management Fellows Program (US)
[Open to non-US and US citizens; must have completed graduate studies within the past two years]

National Academies Jefferson Science Fellowships (US)
[Must be US university faculty]

The Royal Society MP-Scientist Pairing Scheme (UK)
[Must have been a postdoc for at least two years before applying]

Hellman Fellowship (US)
[Engineers and Computer Scientists need a MS or PhD, other fields need a PhD; Need to be eligible to work in the US]

Harvard – Belfer Center, Science, Technology, and Public Policy Fellowships (US)

Department of Commerce – Commerce Science and Technology Fellowship (US)

California Science and Technology Policy Fellowships (US)

Medicine & Health Care

The Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Fellowships Program (US)
[Looking for mid-career doctorate holders in health care fields]

Harkness Fellowship

Academy of Medical Sciences Policy Internship (UK)

Health and Aging Policy Fellowship

Research!America Health Science Policy Fellowship

Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Fellows Program

David A. Winston Health Policy Fellowship (US)

National Center for Health Statistics – Health Policy Fellowship Program

Packer Policy Fellowships – Australian-American Health Policy Fellowships Program

The ASPH/CDC Allan Rosenfield Global Health Fellowship Program

The Shorenstein APARC Fellowship in Asia Health Policy

Climate Change, Resource Use Policy, & Ecology

Aldo Leopold Leadership Program (US)

Morris Udall Foundation

ASPH Public Health Fellowship Program

American Geophysical Union – Congressional Science Fellowship

John A. Knauss Sea Grant Fellowship


American Astronomical Society – John Bahcall Public Policy Fellowship


American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (US)

American Society for Microbiology Congressional Science Fellowship

National Human Genome Research Institute – Genetics and Public Policy Fellowship

American Society of Human Genetics – Genetics and Public Policy Fellowship


American Chemical Society Public Policy Fellowships


The Geological Society of America – Congressional Science Fellowship


American Physical Society

American Institute of Physics and Member Society Government Science Fellowships (US)

Optical Society of America – Congressional Fellows Program

Psychology & Other Social Sciences

American Psychological Association (US)
[Work in DC. Need doctorate in psychology]

Society for Research in Child Development Policy Fellowship

Social Science Research Council – Abe Fellowship Program


NASA Human Capital Program

Other Lists

Policy Fellowship List Maintained by AAAS

Discover Magazine List