Fellowships Advisory Committee Winter 2014 Minutes

ADVISORY COMMITTEE MEETING MINUTES

 

Date/Time: Friday 31 January 2014; 12:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.

Location: AAAS, 1200 New York Avenue NW, Washington, DC; Revelle Conference Room

Members Present: Julie Callahan, Joanne Carney, Daniel Deckler, Greg Downing, Elizabeth Grossman, Bo Hammer, Apriel Hodari, Heather Kelly, Kei Koizumi, Sam Rankin, Brad Strickland, Jeffrey Urbach, Bill Valdez, Dorit Zuk

Members Calling in: Julie Callahan, Anish Goel, Sharon Hays

Members Absent: Diane Berry, Emily Hogue                           

Fellowships Staff: Olga Francois, Eddie Gonzalez, Rick Kempinski, Kristina Lawrence, Cynthia Robinson, Sage
                                 Russell, Salaeha Shariff, Kat Song

 

  I.     Welcome and Introductions

Chair Dorit Zuk opened the meeting and welcomed committee members. Cynthia Robinson acknowledged the recent passing of former STPF director and FAC member, Steve Nelson, and his many contributions to the program.

 

II.Committee Administration
 

The Committee voted unanimously to approve the October 2013 meeting minutes as presented.
 

III.Fellowship Class

Data was presented via Power Point on the growth of the program in the last seven years. The number of fellows has increased significantly overall; however there has been a slight drop in the past two years (279 fellows in 2012-13 to 275 fellows in 2013-14) in the full class, which includes both new and renewal fellows.  The overall growth is attributed to much broader and more diverse outreach, the Obama administration embrace of S&T, and the greater numbers of fellows renewing for a second year. This latter factor is likely due to the challenging job market.

An unusually high number of finalists declined offers in the past year. Several partner societies noted the same observations. We believe this is due to concern about leaving a steady job during a time of dwindling job prospects and S&T funding.

The application numbers were down two percent for 2014-15. This is believed to be due in large part to advancing the deadline by one month. Despite much promotion of the change, some were not aware and not able to complete their dissertation defense in time to be eligible.

Cynthia reminded the committee that we want to maintain numbers, but most importantly we want to maintain the quality of fellows, assignments/host office experiences, and overall program service.

 

IV.Updates

  1. Big Data & Analytics: The new program area developed from agency demands, and the fact that a number of current fellows are working on big data policy assignments. There is demand for more applicants with this particular expertise.

    Elizabeth Grossman, who sits on the selection committee, explained challenges in selecting applicants to interview without a clear understanding of what types of assignments fellows might be placed in and in which agencies. She commented on the good diversity of the applicant pool, which includes a range social scientists and computational scientists as well as other backgrounds.
     
  2. Judicial Branch: AAAS received six applications for the pilot program area; the selection committee decided to interview five. The judicial program area was slightly more difficult to grasp, as the selection committee is working with AAAS to shape the scope of this fellowship. Applicants all have the qualifying scientific credential; some have the preferred JD/legal experience as well. AAAS has funding for one fellowship slot in each of the next two years.

    Anish Goel expressed concern about whether the fellow will actually engage on policy versus legal matters. Sage Russell explained the most likely placement is the Federal Judicial Center, which does focus on policy. An ad hoc advisory group for the program, consisting mainly of the selection committee members, communicated their view that assignments within courts might be feasible, but challenging as they might be seen as competing with law clerks.

    Heather Kelly of APS expressed that that association may be interested in sponsoring a fellow in the Judicial Branch. And, that an APS fellow alumna now works at the Federal Judicial Center and would be a valuable resource.

ACTION: Sage will follow-up with Heather Kelly.

  1. Professional Development: Eddie Gonzalez explained the three themes of the professional development (PD) program: policy, communication, and leadership. The PD program is an integral element of the fellowship experience, established to foster the fellows’ development as science policy leaders. The PD program shapes the fellowship year as a learning experience. The program provides ongoing enrichment that features alumni fellows and leaders in science, public policy and other relevant fields. An intended outcome of the PD program is increased marketability of the fellows after their fellowship. The program also provides fellows with the skills and core competencies to function effectively within the federal government. Eddie provided a copy of the PD calendar for the year.

 

V.Partner Society

a.   Biophysical Society Application:  This society has not partnered with AAAS in the past. There were no concerns from committee members about their membership. Cynthia noted that we have a shortage of life science partner societies and the biophysical society would be a nice addition. The Biophysical Society was approved unanimously as a new partner for the Science & Technology Policy Fellowships.

b.   Society Annual Meetings: Dorit inquired whether sponsoring society’s support their fellows to attend the society’s annual meeting.  Sage explained that it varies. AAAS does, and includes the support in the travel/training fund amount and makes the expectation clear with the offer letter.

c.   Lobbying: Heather Kelly raised a point about some federal agencies not accepting fellows for executive branch placements because the sponsoring society may be seen as a “lobbying society.” She noted this has been a challenge for APS over the past few years. Kei Kozumi expressed the view that this decision may be agency specific (i.e. OSTP) rather than an overarching obstacle. He noted that the main issue at OSTP focuses on legal interpretation and public perception (i.e. is the association going to control the activity of the fellow during the fellowship at the federal agency?).

 

VI.Ad Hoc Committee

Five FAC members volunteered to serve on an ad hoc committee to address non-traditional degree criteria: Sam Rankin, Bo Hammer, Brad Strickland, Anish Goel and Bill Valdez. This group will assist AAAS to establish screening criteria for non-traditional degrees, such as ND (doctor of naturopathy) or DC (doctor of chiropractic). AAAS wants input on the establishment of consistent filters to use for applicants from these nontraditional degree programs, rather than addressing the non-traditional degrees on a case-by-case basis. Additionally, AAAS wants to ensure that the selection process is open to non-traditional backgrounds, within prescribed criteria.

ACTION: The ad hoc committee will convene following a focus group with alumni fellows, which AAAS will organize. Following those meetings, the group will offer recommendations to the full FAC to consider.

 

VII.Issue to Track

Competition – PMF STEM

Cynthia raised the issue of ongoing competitiveness of the program as it relates to stipend, criteria, quality and experience. This discussion evolved from development of the executive branch’s PMF STEM track, which is now recruiting STEM candidates and provides a direct entry point into the government.

The PMF STEM program offers several hundreds of fellowships, which include student loan forgiveness, and stipend levels starting at GS-11 to GS-12, and some increase to GS-13 in the second year of the fellowship. This is rare for AAAS Fellows. And PMF STEM applicants are not required to have a doctorate. Many apply while they are still in a grad degree program.

Elizabeth acknowledged the possibility of early career applicants possibly chosing the PMF STEM program over AAAS. Dorit added perspective on the focus of PMF candidates to enter the federal government after their experience. Also, not all PMFs receive a placement.

Julie Callahan expressed comfort in our position as program with high quality PhD candidates. Kei echoed Julie’s statements, noting that many other fellowship programs have a focus and niche vastly different from the AAAS Fellowships.

 

Stipend Levels

The FAC discussed competitiveness as it relates to the compensation of AAAS Fellows. The PMF program salaries now range from GS10 to GS12 at the start, for applicants at the masters or doctoral level with less than two years of experience. Cynthia is interested in exploring higher starting stipends for AAAS Fellows who qualify for our Level 2 (7-15 years experience at approximately GS 12, step 5) and Level 3 (15+ years experience at approximately GS12, step 10) stipends.

The 2010-2015 strategic plan called for investigating increases for more experienced fellows in general to remain competitive, and to address higher market salaries for some of our high demand target disciplines, including engineering and medicine.

After viewing the stipend range and degree requirements chart (see PPT presentation), it was clear that AAAS Fellows are on the mid to high end of stipend ranges for fellowship programs. However, some other fellowships provide these levels to less-qualified candidates (many do not require a doctorate, or offer the same stipend levels to individuals with far less experience). This is an issue that Cynthia feels it is important to track, especially as we seek to recruit more mid-career fellows.

Julie suggested that AAAS Fellowship stipends should correlate to the perceived level of importance within the agency, and with the professional development aspect of the experience. She noted that if fellows started at a GS-14, agencies may have a different view of the fellows’ role, especially when it comes to allowing time for external professional development. At a GS-14, the nature of the fellowship may change to more of a job. Cynthia agreed levels should not change for fellows with 0-7 years experience. But those with more experience often do not find the AAAS Fellowships as attractive.

Kei recalled that agencies sometimes inquire about stipend levels or health insurance requirements of finalists, as the agencies are challenged with tight budgets. Cynthia noted this has been limited to two agencies.

Brad Strickland expressed interest in tracking comparable salary ranges for individuals in STEM fields. Jeff Urbach suggested exploring whether agencies would be willing to entertain higher stipends for fellows with more experience. Bo Hammer suggested more information on the quality of PMF STEM Fellows while they are in executive branch offices would be helpful. The AAAS staff will pursue these items as feasible.  AAAS will know more about the PMF STEM program after several classes have been selected.

 

VIII.Upcoming Events and Spring Meeting
 

a.   Outreach Programs in 2014: Olga Francois and Salaeha Shariff reviewed the 2014 outreach calendar of conferences, career fairs, and campus visits. It was agreed the list is thorough and will reach diverse audiences.  

b.   AAAS Annual Meeting:  The 2014 annual meeting will place February 13-17 in Chicago, IL. The Fellowships Program will host an outreach booth and will hold its annual networking reception on Saturday evening, 2/15. Symposia and sessions featuring fellows will be promoted.

c.   Special Programming: The S&T Policy Forum will be held in Washington from May 1-2. Additionally, the 14th Annual Barnard Lecture will feature Rosina Bierbaum on Wednesday, May 7th at AAAS Headquarters.

d.   Spring Meeting: The next meeting will be held in the first week of June and AAAS will follow-up with dates.