Written and compiled by Zoe O'Donoghue and Caitlin Winkler
Science Policy Career Toolkit
So you’re interested in a career in science policy, but what does that mean exactly? As it turns out, there are quite a few ways in which the arenas of "science" and "policy" can interact. For any early career scientist interested in exploring the various options that a career in science policy might entail, one of the most important questions that you should be asking is: what do I actually want to do? Knowing the answer (or answers!) to that question can go a long way in helping guide your decisions about how to best spend your time, energy, and expertise. Of course, knowing exactly what you want to do is often elusive and complicated for many of us, so we at Project Bridge have put together this toolkit as a starting point to help guide your research into the possible next step of your career.
This list is by no means comprehensive and many of these positions may not be mutually exclusive. Our goal is simply to provide helpful resources to springboard your career in science policy!
Scientific Outreach: Scientific outreach can include advocating for increasing scientific funding, diversity in STEM fields, or general scientific literacy amongst the public. This can be accomplished oftentimes in tandem with a more "traditional" job in academia. Check out:
Scientific outreach can also include explaining relevant scientific issues to legislators or other lay-populations. This includes acting as the “resident expert” when legislators need particular aspects or implications of legislation to be explained. This can either be a dedicated position or in addition to a position in academia.
The Union of Concerned Scientists’ Science Network – offers mentorship, professional development, and workshop resources pertaining to different types of science policy
Legislative Staffer: These positions typically play a role in drafting or analyzing the implications of bills. This obviously requires a significant amount of researching and writing so if you don’t love those then this may not be the best fit. On the other hand, you get to play a role in designing and creating the bills that may one day become law. Positions may be available at local, state, and federal levels.
Lobbyist: A lobbyist influences legislation related to a particular issue area on behalf of an individual special interest or specific group. These people often get a bad rap but lobbyists CAN lobby for scientifically positive and beneficial legislation as well. The National Postdoc Association has a great primer and resources for early career scientists interested in lobbying.
Policy Analyst: As part of the executive branch, policy analysts help to develop regulations based on policy. Policy analysts often have to wear different hats; check out this interview to learn more about what a "typical day" as a policy analyst might look like. The best way to get more information and experience in this area is to participate in one of the science policy fellowships found throughout the rest of this toolkit.
Other Career Resources and Opportunities:
iBiology – scientific research and career resources, especially towards increasing all types of science communication
Excited to pursue a career in science policy but don’t want to wait to start getting involved and making a difference? Check out the sections below for ways you can help advocate for science now!
Civic Engagement: Help turn out the vote! One of the most effective ways to create scientific policy or social change is to vote for legislatures that advocate for science. You can help increase voter turnout in both local and national elections by getting involved with organizations like:
Fair Fight. Founded by Stacey Abrams, the first black woman to become the gubernatorial nominee for a major party in the United States, Fair Fight works to promote fair elections around the country, encourages voter participation in elections, and educates voters about elections and their voting rights.
FairVote. Founded in 1992 by scholars, advocates and former elected officials, FairVote is a nonpartisan organization that works to address issues like gerrymandering, unfair representation, and limited voter choice by advocating for ranked choice voting and the Fair Representation Act (H.R. 4000).
Common Cause. A nonpartisan grassroots organization, Common Cause works to create open, honest, and accountable government that serves the public interest; promote equal rights, opportunity, and representation for all; and empower all people to make their voices heard in the political process.
Campaign Legal Center. A recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions, CLC works to address issues with campaign finance, voting rights, redistricting, and ethics. Recently CLC developed online toolkits to help citizens with past felony convictions understand their voting rights, and legally supported independent redistricting commissions to fight gerrymandering.
Election Protection. A national, nonpartisan group, Election Protection works coast to coast to provide Americans with comprehensive information and assistance at all stages of voting, from registration, to absentee and early voting, to casting a vote at the polls, to overcoming obstacles to their participation.
Also consider getting involved with your local government, which has huge influence and impact on people’s daily lives. You can attend town hall meetings, get involved with your local political party, or volunteer for local campaigns. You could even consider joining a local city board or committee. Whatever you do, you can use your position to advocate for science and support local politicians and organizations that advocate for science too.
Watchdog for Science: Join the Union of Concerned Scientists Science Network and sign up to watchdog for science. The UCS provides tools, opportunities, and action items to effectively push back on attacks on science, and to push for science-informed solutions. Also check out SciPol.org, a nonpartisan public website offered by Duke University’s Initiative for Science and Society that tracks, analyzes, and promotes engagement with science and technology policy across a range of fields.
Outreach: Get involved with our local community by checking out other on-campus groups like Women in STEM, or organizations like Young Hands in Science, which works to increase science engagement, knowledge and diversity among Colorado students. You can also volunteer with scientific institutions like the Denver Museum of Nature and Science or the Denver Zoo to help engage the public scientifically. The AAAS has an extensive list of outreach resources, including programs in the U.S. and abroad, mentorship programs, and opportunities to serve as online scientific experts.
Written Communication: Like to write? Check out these great options to advocate for science from the comfort of your keyboard:
Write a public comment. Public comments allow you engage directly with government agencies proposing new rules and regulations, such as the Food and Drug Administration. The suggestions submitted to these agencies can and do influence their actions. For example, check out this letter written by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in regards to the FDA’s Nutrition Innovation Strategy, an initiative that seeks solutions to reduce the number of preventable deaths and disease related to poor nutrition.
Get involved with the National Science Policy Network’s 2020 Election Initiative. Learn how to write a collaborative meta-review about a scientific topic that’s important to you, then choose from several tracks to focus your outreach and advocacy efforts on like building and contributing to public resources like Wikipedia, writing policy memos and white papers, and publishing op-eds.
Additional Resources: Want even more ideas for how to get involved? Check out resources like the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Scientist Advocacy Toolkit and the Indivisible Guide. They include tips and tools for engaging with policymakers, community groups, and the media, advice for designing your own actions and campaigns, and ways to stay informed on the latest threats to science and what you can do about it!