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.
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]
Medicine & Health Care
The Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Fellowships Program (US)
[Looking for mid-career doctorate holders in health care fields]
Climate Change, Resource Use Policy, & Ecology
Psychology & Other Social Sciences
American Psychological Association (US)
[Work in DC. Need doctorate in psychology]