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Applying to STPF: All About the Program Areas

I first learned of the AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships (STPF) when I moved to Washington nearly a decade ago. Initially, I thought that all STPF fellowship placements were on Capitol Hill. Turns out that’s a common misconception. While STPF originated as a congressional fellowship in 1973, a lot has changed in nearly half a century since then. The class size has grown to include more than 250 fellows and placements have expanded to all three branches of the federal government.

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As STPF recruitment director, it’s helpful for me to recall my initial assumptions about the program. I love hearing the excited “oh wow!” when someone first learns that STPF comprises close to 300 fellows each year. But the breadth of opportunity across the federal government – and the alphabet soup of agency acronyms – can be daunting.
Don’t worry: you do not need to know all of the federal agencies or offices when you apply. And you don’t need to have connections in government. Many fellows are placed in offices they had never heard of before applying. But a broad understanding of how federal agencies and Congress work, their missions and policy priorities – and how these align with your scientific or technical expertise – will go a long way. This understanding will help you determine if you’d like to apply to a certain program area, and it will help you articulate your interests and potential contributions in your application materials.

While there is no universal experience for fellows in any program area, the descriptions below will give you a sense of how they vary. Do any stand out to you? Keep in mind that no matter which program areas you choose to apply to, the program is a transformative experience that provides professional growth, networking and unexpected opportunities.

Executive branch fellowships are the most numerous, with more than 100 placements annually. Fellows are placed in about -20 agencies including the U.S. Agency for International Development, the National Science Foundation, the Department of State, the Department of Health and  Human Services, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration . Executive branch fellows are often found:

  • Writing talking points, speeches, press releases, reports, and web pages.
  • Fostering interagency collaboration.
  • Facilitating program development, implementation and evaluation.
  • Supporting program, policy, and planning improvements.
  • Performing risk analysis, regulation, monitoring, and evaluation.

AAAS sponsors two legislative branch fellowships. More congressional placements – and some executive branch placements - are available through approximately 30 partner societies that together help strengthen the presence of science on Capitol Hill. You may apply through both AAAS and partner societies. Congressional fellows:

  • Brief Members of Congress and staff on scientific and technical topics.
  • Meet with constituents and special interest groups.
  • Write issue and policy briefs, talking points, speeches, press releases, etc.
  • Help draft text for legislation.
  • Plan and implement events.

There is one judicial branch fellowship placement at the Federal Judicial Center. This fellow spends a year contributing scientific and technical expertise to topics such as judicial administration, operations, education programs, protocol and discovery, and courtroom technology. This fellow gets hands-on experience with major policy issues facing the federal court system and engage in activities such as:

  • Providing informed advice, analysis and recommendations on scientific matters.
  • Advising staff in formulating and developing policy-related options for the federal judiciary.
  • Conducting research and preparing reports on science- and technology-related matters.
  • Presenting the results of research and analysis.
  • Preparing project reports, briefings, talking points and related correspondence.

The Roger Revelle Fellowship in Global Stewardship provides a unique opportunity for an accomplished scientist to address global stewardship issues by applying a broad, multidisciplinary background toward solutions to important societal problems. Placements may be in any branch of federal government, a nonprofit organization, or another approved organization. Previous host offices have included the Smithsonian Institution, the World Bank, the Department of State, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. This fellowship matches a fellow’s background with the needs of the host office and is open to applicants with seven years of post-degree professional experience.

Knowing your professional and personal goals is just as important as knowing about the program areas. Think of it like a Venn diagram – where do the fellowship program areas and your interests overlap? Here are some questions to consider when selecting program areas:

  • What are you passionate about?
  • What are your policy interests?
  • How can your scientific and technical expertise contribute to policy?
  • What type of learning experience are you seeking?
  • What skills are you looking to develop?

No matter which program areas you apply to, success as a fellow relies on a common set of skills: leadership, strong communication, analytical thinking, and flexibility. Read more about our review criteria for the fellowship. When you do select your program areas, be sure to tailor your application materials to them. Your writing prompts and letters of recommendation should all speak directly to the program area to which you are applying. It’s an opportunity for you to frame your experiences and skills in relation to the fellowship program area.

Ready to learn more about program areas? Watch a recording of this live chat, The STPF Application: Let’s Talk About the Program Areas, featuring four panelists – one representing each program area.


Jessica Soule

Alumni Engagement Director

Related Scientific Disciplines