Fellowships Advisory Committee Fall 2011 Minutes
AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships
Advisory Committee Meeting
Tuesday, 6 December 2011
2:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Haskins Conference Room, AAAS, 2nd floor
1200 New York Ave, NW Washington, DC 20005
ATTENDANCE: Full Committee (see roster); Fellowships staff included Erin Hammer, Cynthia Robinson, and Sage Russell.
I. Welcome & Introduction
Chair Eric Fischer opened the meeting and welcomed participants. Cynthia Robinson provided a brief history on the background and purpose of the advisory committee. The Fellowships Advisory Committee was established in 1999 as a sub-committee of the Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy (COSEPP) because questions arose concerning the appropriate criteria for society partners and COSEPP thought it useful to have an external committee to provide guidance and input.
Eric reviewed the Terms of Service: 17 voting members with terms of 1-3 years, with one renewal, so that 6 years is the maximum length of time a committee member may serve. Committee members are asked to commit to 2 meetings per year.
II. Report on 2011-12 Fellowship Class
The 2011-12 class is the largest in the history on the S&T Policy Fellowships, totaling 255 Year-long Fellows. Of those, 220 are in the executive branch, and 35 are in Congressional offices or committees. Thirty partner societies are sponsoring Fellows, including 13 in the executive branch in additional to 33 Congressional Fellows (2 are sponsored by AAAS). The demographic breakdown included:
Discipline: 2011-12 Fellows come from predominantly biological and physical science fields, following the historic trend. We saw an increase in applicants from the social sciences and health/medical fields, reflecting success in marketing efforts to respond to host office requests for more candidates with health/medical, computational, social science, and engineering backgrounds.
Geographic Region (at time of recruitment): Most of the Fellows applied from schools/academic positions or posts in the east coast, followed by California.
Gender Breakdown: 65% Female, 35% male; This is the largest gender gap in the history of the program and a significant jump over the prior year.
Career Stage: 65% of the Fellows were within 7 years out of the qualifying degree (which AAAS defines as early career). Of those, 12% were within 1 year out of their PhD, demonstrating that most of the early career Fellows bring one or more years of experience to the program.
Program Area: In 2011-12 the largest cohort is in the Diplomacy, Security and Development (DSD) area, due in large part to a surge in Fellows at USAID. Energy, Environment & Agriculture (EEA) numbers held steady in second place this year. Health, Education & Human Services (HEHS) has the fewest placements, yet had the largest number of applicants.
The State Department and USAID are hosting the largest number of Fellows this year, with 40 Fellows each. USAID numbers include three international assignments with the re-launch of AAAS Overseas Program at USAID missions.III. 2010-15 Strategic Plan
Summary and General Results
In order to assess and plan for unprecedented program growth, a strategic planning process was launched in 2008. Over the past seven years the size of the classes has grown more than 85%, from 137 year-long Fellows in 2005-06 to 255 in 2011-12 (numbers include first and second-year fellows; those extending for less than 6 months are not included in the annual totals). The Fellowships staff has also grown to accommodate the demands of a significantly larger program, from 8.5 FTEs in 2005 to 17 at the end of 2011. There are now 2,400+ alumni, and roughly $15 million in annual operating budget, which results in approximately $1 million of indirect costs for the
AAAS bottom line.
Following 18-months of data collection and development, the 2010-15 strategic plan was finalized in January 2010 (sent out with advance materials for meeting). The plan was informed with input from more than 400 current and former Fellows, partner societies and host agencies. The online survey received a 37% response rate (373 out of ~1,000), and 47 one-hour interviews also were conducted by the external consultant.
Much of the plan addresses handling evolution and growth the Fellowships. Maintaining quality of Fellows, placements, and program servicing and staff were flagged as the big picture, high priorities going forward.
FAC and Vision/Mission
Creating a Fellowship-wide Advisory Committee was a primary recommendation (as opposed to the prior Congressional Fellowship Advisory Committee), and also production of vision and missions statements to clearly guide future operations. The former has now been accomplished; the latter will be pursued via an ad hoc working group of the Advisory Committee providing input to Fellowships staff. An external consultant will be hired to facilitate this process.
ACTION ITEMS: Establish an ad hoc committee to provide input to development of vision and mission statements, engage external consultant, set process schedule.
IV. Congressional Fellowships/ Partner Societies
Cynthia provided a brief historical overview of the evolution of the Congressional Fellowships and collaboration with partner societies. The roster of Congressional Fellows totals 1,193 since 1973. The program was launched with seven Fellows sponsored by five partnering societies. Over the past 38 years a total of 67 scientific/engineering societies and other entities (e.g. Sloan Foundation, Duke University) have sponsored Congressional Fellows. The largest class was in 2000-01, with 44 Fellows.
Criteria for partner societies was revised in 1999 to focus specifically on national and international scientific and engineering member associations that emphasize research and/or technical and scientific application and practice, and which have a sufficient number of doctoral level members (or masters degree in engineering) to provide an adequate pool of applicants for an open and competitive fellowship selection process.
To date, all but a few societies have followed the AAAS criteria that states eligibility as a doctoral degree in the sciences or engineering, or a master’s degree in engineering plus a minimum of three post-masters professional experience. The three engineering societies that do not state this requirement explicitly (ASCE, ASME, and IEEE) were “grandfathered” with the understanding that they adhere to professional experience standards for accepting bachelors-level applicants (plus at least eight years experience) and masters-level applicants (plus at least three years of professional experience). The years of professional experience for these “grandfathered” partner societies was not specified as post-degree.
Two of the societies have presented Fellows on several occasions who do not meet the years of experience qualifications that those societies agreed to. Although there is no charge that those Fellows were not successful, there have been questions from both host offices and other Fellows (including those with engineering backgrounds) about their suitability. From the AAAS perspective, there has also been concern about diluting brand by not providing the stated standard of education and experience across all Fellows. And, several of the Fellows who held only bachelor’s degrees with little experience were very young and naïve. They needed extra time and attention adjusting and fitting in, and were not perceived to operate at the same level as their more educated and experienced fellowship colleagues.
AIP Request to Expand Eligibility to Masters STEM Teachers and Medical Physicists
The American Institute of Physics (AIP) requested that AAAS approve expansion of fellowship eligibility requirements to allow AIP to accept applications and possibly designate master’s level STEM educators and medical physicists as S&T Policy Fellows under the AAAS umbrella. A memo from AIP detailing their request was provided to the FAC in advance of the meeting, and Cynthia provided a decision memo on the issue. Eric outlined the possible outcomes of the discussion:
• Decide that AIP’s request is acceptable and approve it.
• Decide that AAAS should not expand eligibility criteria and clarify rationale for the decision.
• Defer making a decision and request that AIP provide additional information and rationale to the committee, and/or that AAAS Fellowships staff gather additional information
The Committee discussed the pros and cons of allowing expansion of the criteria as AIP requested, and per the decision memo that had been distributed in preparation for the meeting. Following is a summary of the points in favor of the request and the concerns raised.
Points in Favor:
• Masters degree candidates with many years of experience in their fields are more experienced than many of the post-docs and recent doctoral degree recipients who are currently accepted into the S&T Policy Fellowships.
• Expanding the criteria avoids the perception of the AAAS Fellowships as an elitist program.
• The sponsoring societies may be missing out on exceptional candidates due to the current restrictions to doctorate degrees or masters in engineering (plus three years or more of post-masters professional experience).
• Current and past master’s level Fellows in the program have been successful.
• AIP is a long time partner and is rigorous in its selection; there is no reason to anticipate that it would lower standards for selection of master’s level STEM teacher applicants.
Issues of Concern:
• Expansion of the criteria dilutes the AAAS Fellowships’ brand; it will affect the perception and clarity of what it means to be an S&T Policy Fellow.
• Requiring a doctorate guarantees a recognized level of specialized experience and training; to some that may appear “elitist,” yet it is a distinction of the S&T Policy Fellowships. These opportunities are not designed for all levels of scientists and engineers, but rather for those with higher level education and more specialized training.
• Although there are a few master’s level Fellows in each class (less than 10% a year), they have specific, standardized technical training in engineering. It is not clear that in the field of education a masters degree equates to such specialized technical training. Those with doctorates in education already qualify for the S&T Policy Fellowships under the social science category.
• The Einstein Fellowships, a competitive, nationally recognized fellowship program already exists for masters level STEM teachers, which AIP members with masters degrees in STEM education would qualify for without diluting the AAAS brand (AIP has presented that they do not view the Einstein Fellowships to be as prestigious; and that the program’s orientation and professional development are less comprehensive).
• AIP proposes allowing its selection committee members to determine what quantifies as “significant experience” rather than establishing clear criteria. Current Fellows with S&T masters degrees meet specific standards (e.g. three years or more of post-masters professional experience)
• Accepting AIP’s proposal would set a precedent with potential long-term ramifications and implications for other partner societies. The FAC concluded that further information is needed.
ACTION ITEMS: AAAS will request invite AIP to present at the January partner society meeting to solicit broader feedback and perspectives. AAAS also will solicit additional information from AIP based on concerns voiced in the FAC discussion:
• Would the requirement be that the MS degree be in a STEM field and/or education?
• What is meant by ‘significant’ experience and how will that be determined?
In additional AAAS will conduct research on its statistics on engineers who have been accepted under the S&T Policy Fellowships over the past 10 years to ascertain trends. And it will solicit perspectives on this issue more broadly from current and former Fellows who hold both masters and doctoral engineering degrees, and from current and former Fellows with degrees in education and/or experience teaching STEM in high school and higher education levels.
Managing Growth for Stability and Demand
While the expansion of the S&T Policy Fellowships program can be viewed as positive in general, such quick and potentially unsustainable growth could have negative consequences. It puts a strain on staff to maintain high quality of service and operations (the staff has already doubled in size from 8.5 FTEs to 17 FTEs). A particular challenge is that each of the executive branch fellowship areas has just one or two host agencies that fund the bulk of Fellows. When any of these decline significantly and quickly, as was the case with USAID several years ago, it creates instability that cannot easily be balanced with increases across the other host agencies.
On the executive branch side, the strategy for sustainability is to have more hosting agencies in each program area and to increase the number of Fellows at agencies that host only a few Fellows. This will be an ongoing focus for AAAS. In particular more agencies are needed within the HEHS program area, where there are only four host agencies and NIH and NSF host 90% of the Fellows. This is also the program area receiving the largest number of applications. This presents a serious shortage of placement opportunities to applications.
On the congressional side of operations the challenge is not lack of hosting offices (as the fellows are provided free to Congress), but lack of sponsoring societies to meet demand. In 2009-10 the number of Congressional Fellows dipped below 30 for the first time in more than a decade. The current partner societies are not able to fund additional Fellows, and several have not funded Fellows for several years due to fiscal constraints. The strategy for sustainability in this instance is to recruit new partner societies. This has been a challenge in the current tight economic situation.
Another option is to consider expanding partnership criteria to admit entities that are not traditional scientific/engineering associations. These might include laboratory consortia or organizations such as Research America, Sigma Xi American Cancer Society, in an effort to meet the increased demand for Fellows on Capitol Hill
A number of challenges will need further exploration before any decisions on this issue can be made, including:
• how to avoid conflict of interest and ethics
• ensuring open and competitive selection processes
• maintaining standards and criteria for accepting such entities as partner
• maintaining standards and criteria across their fellowship selection processes
AAAS will also explore in its outreach to potential partners the opportunity to accept funds for collaborative fellowships (AAAS did this in the past and there are current societies that pool funds for one or more fellowships), as well as for partners to fully fund AAAS to run fellowship selections on their behalf.
V. Executive Branch Fellowship Trends
As noted above, more agencies are needed in each of the executive branch fellowship areas to diversity and balance the portfolios, especially in the HEHS program area. AAAS has been cultivating connections in the Departments of Education, Labor, Interior, Transportation, and Justice, as well as at the FDA. In addition, AAAS is striving to expand the number of placements in agencies that currently host five or fewer Fellows, including DHS, HHS, NOAA, USDA, USGS, VA. FAC contacts at any of these agencies and others are welcome.
VI. Evaluation Results
The most recent annual evaluation results and the report of the five-year evaluations of the AAAS Fellowships at EPA, USAID and NSF were provided to the FAC prior to the meeting. Cynthia briefly summarized the outputs. Fellows and host offices generally report high levels of satisfaction and success. Unfortunately, there is a low level of participation from host offices/agencies, despite requests for data on results. For the Fellows learning outcomes the most significant improvement in knowledge appears to be immediately following orientation. However, this is clearly skewed in part because some Fellows rank themselves high on skills in the pre-orientation evaluation and then realizing in hindsight how much they did not know. A number of the Fellows comment on this both in the mid-year and year-end surveys.
AAAS staff are now working with an external evaluation firm to review the annual survey questions, structure and process for future enhancements.
VII. Recruitment and new Image/Marketing Campaign
Cynthia reported that the Fellowships Department has contracted with a strategic communications and design firm to develop a new image and marketing campaign for the AAAS Fellowships. This needs to be informed with the new vision and mission statements to be developed with input from the FAC, as noted earlier.
2012-13 Application Results
The 2012-12 fellowship application deadline was December 5th. The preliminary results on the Congressional side are: 76 applications for the two available AAAS-sponsored slots. There was a significant increase in applications for the DSD program. This is likely due in part to strategic efforts to target recruiting for this area, as AAAS knew in advance that there would be an increase in fellowship opportunities at USAID.
Exploration of non-traditional degree eligibility.
Cynthia reviewed need to revisit the range of degrees accepted for fellowship eligibility based on evolving nationally accepted and standardized degrees (such as doctor of naturopathy, chiropracty( and recent inquiries from individuals with these “nontraditional” degrees. Staff research to date indicates that there is inconsistency across curricula, licensing standards, and requirements for academic and clinical experience across some fields. The American Medical Association does not endorse national legislation or policy proposals to integrate these fields into other disciplines of medicine. Of course that view is fraught with conflict of interest.
As these newer fields of medicine, and others, evolve and mature it may be wise for AAAS to be open and flexible. It was pointed out that this issue relates back to the vision and mission statements. It was agreed that it is important to clarify these before moving on to these other questions.
Attracting Mid-Career Fellows
Stipend levels are based on Fellows’ experience post-qualifying degree. Recognizing S&T work experience prior to PhD attainment would help retain high quality candidates who would otherwise only be eligible for the graduate student level stipend
Expansion beyond Congressional and Executive Branch (Judicial, non-federal)
Cynthia reported requests from Gates Foundation and other non-federal entities to host Fellows, and requests for AAAS to establish new non-federal fellowships programs. To date Cynthia has offered advice and guidance, but referred such inquiries to the American Political Science Association and other entities. She has concern that AAAS may be missing some exciting opportunities by adhering so rigidly to the federal-only niche for the S&T Policy Fellowships.
Staff will now explore possibilities for creating separate categories of fellowships. Some in the federal realm, such as a Judicial Branch program area. And, others with organizations that connect with policy in their work. These will be limited, at least initially, to organizations that approach AAAS directly. They include to date the Gates Foundation, World Bank, FAO, and several others. As this moves forward Cynthia will keep the FAC apprised and seek input on possible structures, challenges and benefits.
VIII. Alumni Engagement
Cynthia provided as summary of plans under a newly launched alumni relations effort.
A “Fellows’ Central” portal will be created that will feature an online, searchable directory of Fellows; resources, listserv and affinity group links, outreach materials, and administrative documents. The aim was to launch in April 2012; however, the RFP will not be distributed until late December so the go-live date will likely be later in 2012.
Affinity Groups have long been informally active among each class of Fellows. As the class sizes have grown these have become more important venues for networking and the staff formalized affinity group guidelines and funding in 2009. This has boosted participation and activities. Several of the affinity groups have run very successful, significant public events. The Fellowships staff is exploring strategies to support these groups becoming cross-cohort efforts.
Regional Alumni Gatherings
The first regional alumni event will be held in San Francisco on December 9, featuring a lecture and wine tasting titled “Wine and Terrior” by one of the current Fellows who is geologist, terrior specialist and vintner. These events will also be promoted to potential donors in the regions where they are held.
The largest geographic hubs of Fellows, outside of the greater-DC region (which boasts more than 50% of alumni), are northern California, MA/NH, CT/NY/NJ, and Chicago. Events are being planned for 2012 in Boston and again in San Francisco, as well as the annual gathering at the AAAS annual meeting.
AAAS has received inquiries from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the Government Accountability Office (GAO), and the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) for Fellows for short term assignments ranging from three months to one year. All without funding sources.
The staff plan to explore possibilities for a future program for alumni to engage in this way. The program might be called something along the lines of the S&T Policy Encore Fellowships, to operate similarly to the Peace Corps Crisis Corps and other entities that re-engage their alumni to take advantage of expertise, talent and time when and where there is need.
While this could present exciting opportunities for former Fellows and help meet a need, FAC members pointed out that AAAS must be attentive to the risk of being perceived as an employment agency. Also, cultivating funding could be very time intensive, as well as the matching and facilitation tasks. A well-functioning database will be critical to soliciting and matching Fellows.
The question was also raised whether AAAS might meet this need through details or rotations of current to other agencies or departments. Cynthia explained that details and rotations already are options, but they are challenging. While Fellows are very enthusiastic about such opportunities, they are not always seen as a win-win by the host agency that foots the bill for the Fellow to take on assignments elsewhere. Staff will report more on this topic as there is news.
IX. Next meeting
In accordance with the new Advisory Committee Terms of Reference, the Committee will meet again in June. Tuesday, 6 June 2012, from 2:30-4:30 p.m. was proposed. Additionally, Advisory Committee members were invited and encouraged to attend the All-Fellows reception at the AAAS Annual Meeting in February in Vancouver, and the April Placement Week reception, held at AAAS. Invitations will be forthcoming.