Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Science Policy

In case I wasn't already considering enough career options, I have decided to throw another one in the pile... science policy!

I was recently informed (by someone in science policy) that it is SO not what I thought it was. When I heard the phrase "science policy," I had always imagined people with science degrees that were pushing to have particular laws changed and having strong partisan affiliations  and possibly screaming SAVE THE WHALES. But in a professional way. It turns out that "science policy" is acting as a liaison between the scientists with their data and their public unfriendly p-values, and the politicians that don't understand the data and the p-values. You become a science translator for government officials. That sounds... kind of awesome. (Assuming that I've understood correctly... it's possible that I now have a totally NEW incorrect perception of science policy.)
There are a few things that I know that I'm good at and know that I'm interested in; the difficult part in deciding on a career path is what is best suited to those talents and interests. I, having no real-world job experience and a sub-human level of foresight, find this challenging. But I know I can teach, which is largely tied to my ability to communicate information effectively. Given a little expertise and time, I can distill the important bits of information out of a mess. I know I'm interested in how to communicate effectively and how those methods change with our culture. I'm interested in increasing the general public's awareness and understanding of natural sciences.

So does science policy belong in my pile?

#and for your daily dose of hilarity, I present to you:


  1. I agree... I discovered this as well, and it sounds awesome. However, I wonder what would be the best approach to this career. I am finishing a PhD in Astrophysics, should I study policy before trying? Are there internships? I know the AAAS has one, but that's all I've heard.

    Good luck!

  2. 27, 2010 at 9:55 PM

    I think that there's reason why a job in "Science Policy" sounds oddly named to the ears of a potential job applicant. The reason: a Department of Science Policy is named for the end product of a long process. The end product is created when a government creates a law, a policy, or provides funding (via action by Congress, by the President, by a Governor, et al.) The job you described appears to be the first step in the process of converting the current status of science into a format comprehensible to non-scientists in Government. You might also wish to note that the CIA (and maybe the NSA)also has similar needs; they hire scientists to read journals all day, to travel to scientific conference, and then to summarize and highlight important developments.

  3. My doctorate is in cell biology and I now work for the FDA. I had to learn federal regulations and I apply them regularly to my work, but most of my job is reviewing the results of clinical and analytical studies or providing a critique of proposed future studies. We hire engineers, MDs... I also get to participate in science policy decision-making, but it's Executive branch, not working with Congress. I love this job and think it should be on the radar of people on the lookout for 'alternative' careers.