News: News Archives
Fellowships Provide Sabbatical Opportunities
for Faculty Interested in Science Policy
AAAS fellowship staff has created a website featuring several Faculty Experience essays penned by academics who embarked on science and technology policy fellowships in Washington, D.C., through AAAS programs. These essays provide detailed information about how Fellows made their decisions to apply, what their experiences were like, and what they did after the year was over.
"We're concerned about the misperception that these programs are only for individuals who have just finished their graduate degrees," says Claudia J. Sturges, director of the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowship Programs. "This new website is important because it articulates the point that they are for scientists and engineers at all stages in their careers, and that a AAAS policy fellowship is an excellent way to spend a sabbatical year."
Approximately 95 AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellows are selected each year as to serve in Washington, D.C., in Congress or in federal agencies. The Fellows provide their expertise in science and engineering to policymakers while learning about federal decision-making.
Faculty apply for the fellowships for a number of reasons. Some use it as a stepping stone away from their university positions into another professional field. Others use the opportunity to educate themselves about science policy and bring new perspectives to their teaching in academia.
"The fellowship is an interesting and informing experience, and what Fellows gain during the year will impact their professional life no matter where they go afterward," says Sturges.
Andrea M. Dietrich, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, writes in her essay, "I plunged into the waters of legislative and public affairs, and out of the mainstream of my academic career.... I was looking for new challenges, new perspectives, and new opportunities." Her AAAS/NSF Science and Engineering Fellowship gave her "a wealth of knowledge in science writing for the public," something that didn't come naturally to her after years in academia. "Story-telling was highly desirable," she writes, while "unexplained nomenclature or jargon was unacceptable."
Jerry Gilfoyle, professor of nuclear physics at the University of Richmond, applied for a one-year AAAS Defense Policy fellowship at the Department of Defense because it would provide an unorthodox sabbatical experience: working in science policy.
"I didn't apply for the fellowship because of disillusionment about academia," Gilfoyle says. "What got me going into the policy world was a long-time interest in the intersection of science and society that started in college."
He spent his year at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), an agency within the Department of Defense, and one of approximately a dozen executive branch agencies that utilize scientists and engineers through nine AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowship Programs. Gilfoyle worked in the office responsible for deterring and countering weapons of mass destruction. Among other projects, he investigated ways to enhance the security of nuclear-weapons materials in Russia and served on the oversight committee to assess the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty after it was rejected by the U.S. Senate.
"Since returning to academia, I have continued with much of the work I was doing before my fellowship," Gilfoyle says. "But I am not completely cured of 'Potomac Fever.' I've worked as a consultant for DTRA and have given talks about both my fellowship experiences and new expertise gained that year. I've found more than a few scientists interested in getting involved in policy and, more importantly, that the public hungers for an understanding of how science is affecting our lives."
9 January 2003