On June 16, the AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships (STPF) 2022 Live Chat Series kicked off with a series of flash talks from five alumni fellows – one from each of the program’s five decades of existence. While aimed primarily at scientists and engineers who are considering applying for a fellowship, the event had much to offer anyone interested in career pathways that weave science with public policy.
Pamela Flattau (1974-75 Congressional Science & Engineering Fellow sponsored by the American Psychological Association) was among the fellows who set the STPF stage shortly after the program launched in 1973. The 70s was a period of upheaval and changing landscapes. Her fellowship placement in the Senate opened the door to experts in the Congressional Research Service, the social science community, and people throughout the government engaged in the active collection and interpretation of social data. Following her fellowship, Pamela continued to expand her professional boundaries by using her skills to help shape the creation of the scientific workforce. She encouraged the audience to look to their networks and call on experts in the effort to “expand professional boundaries." Flattau is now the executive director of a policy research group, the PsySiP Project.
Traci Hill (1992-94 Executive Branch Fellow at U.S Agency for International Development) and Keith Moo Young (2001-02 Executive Branch Fellow at Environmental Protection Agency) credited their mentors for bringing them to the STPF fellowship. Hill was interested in doing something other than research. As a fellow, she worked on a program that funded partnerships between universities and colleges in developing countries and the US. That experience inspired her to return to academia after the fellowship – understanding that going back didn’t mean a need to focus on research. She is currently acting deputy chief and principal investigator at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
STPF was a catalyst for Keith's career, opening his eyes to how research can transform policy. He fondly described his journey as the "Yellow Brick Road," with many mentors and friends helping him along his journey. He also shared how academics can make an impact on policy. For instance, they can serve on policy advisory boards or participate in discussions and conversations representing a science perspective. Young is vice provost and dean of undergraduate education at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Attendees at the first 2022 live chat were also able to hear from STPF Director Rashada Alexander (2009-11 Executive Branch Fellow at the National Institutes of Health, NIH). Her advice to listeners: keep thinking of ways to continue learning and growing. Alexander recalled asking a lot of questions during, and after, her fellowship. She made a habit of finding people from whom she wanted to learn to request time to talk, even cold calling a few.
And be mindful of "the difference between doing important things and being around important people,” said Alexander. “They're two different things. Sometimes you'll do them both at the same time, but that doesn't make them the same thing."
The fellowship was the perfect mid-career transition for biological anthropologist Roberto Delgado (2013-15 Executive Branch Fellow at the National Science Foundation, NSF) from esoteric research to making a broader societal impact. Delgado kept busy as a fellow. He co-led the STPF Biodiversity Affinity Group, co-authored a five-year interagency arctic research plan, and co-led a report for the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Following his fellowship, Delgado was contracted by NIH not for his public health knowledge, but for his interagency experience and connection to Arctic communities. Today, he recruits and mentors fellows of his own at the NSF Office of Polar Programs as the Program Director for the Arctic Observing Network. "I'm ever grateful to the fellowship program, AAAS staff, my host office and mentor, and fellow fellows for helping me grow and expand professionally in areas I would not have otherwise anticipated,” he said.
Watch a recording of the June live chat here.