The AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships (STPF) program responds to the demand for highly qualified science and engineering experts from all three branches of federal government. What some people may not know is that the program is a cooperative initiative of many scientific and engineering societies. This year, 37 of the 271 fellows comprising the 2018-19 fellowship class are sponsored by one of these partner societies.
Developmental psychologist Emily Ross, a current fellow at the Department of Health and Human Services sponsored by the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD), said that she had been aware of the society’s fellowship, but didn’t know that there were others available through AAAS.
Ross joined SRCD as a graduate student while researching connections between education, parenting, and young children's development, particularly for those growing up in poverty. “I realized that in academia we might not ask research questions that are most relevant to policymakers and practitioners, and that our time frames for producing evidence are often longer than what’s needed by policymakers,” Ross said. “I wanted to get this experience to learn how to make research more useful for those making key policy decisions that affect children and families.”
Ross is currently working in the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation within the Administration for Children and Families to conduct research and evaluation of federally-funded child care and Head Start preschool programs and the families they serve.
Ross also enjoys benefits from the diversity of science and government experience STPF fellows represent. “I went out to dinner last weekend with a neuroscientist, a limnologist, a veterinarian, an engineer, and an education policy researcher,” she said. “We’re all applying research to policy in different ways, and I’m really excited to learn from them and to maintain these connections beyond the fellowship.”
This year, twenty-four partner societies sponsor Congressional Science & Engineering Fellowships, and three of those also sponsor executive branch fellowships. AAAS sponsors two Congressional Science & Engineering Fellows. The societies represent a range of science and engineering, and include, for instance, the American Nuclear Society, the American Veterinary Medical Association, and the Geological Society of America.
Kendrick Davis, an education researcher with an engineering and law background, said he found out about the fellowship from an American Education Research Association (AERA) email list. Currently a fellow in the office of Kamala Harris where he works on ways to address the student debt crisis, make college more affordable, expand financial aid for vulnerable populations, and provide opportunities for workers to retrain and stay employed as industries change.
After four years of working in the Philadelphia Mayor’s office on education issues, Davis said he’s looking forward to learning how the federal system works. “The government is concerned with system-level changes,” he said, which means they’re concerned about different issues than the ones that “consume the minds of educators, parents and states.” He said that he found that “there are many more people working to address issues that affect common Americans than not.”
Social psychologist Laura Van Berkel, 2018-19 Executive Branch Fellow at the National Science Foundation sponsored by the American Psychological Association (APA), said being sponsored by a partner society has benefits. For instance, the APA worked directly with federal agency offices on her behalf during the placement process.
“The process was more relaxed because I wasn’t competing for a spot,” Van Berkel said. And, since the sponsoring society provides the fellows’ stipends instead of the host agency, “[t]here may have been opportunities that were available to me that weren’t available to other AAAS fellows because of funding,” she said.
Van Berkel found a home in the National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences, where she works on the science of broadening participation. “That means understanding how the research supports increasing inclusivity and diversity in STEM, the workforce, and society…with the aim of creating more effective interventions,” such as mentoring or countering stereotypes, Van Berkel said.
She said she’s looking forward to expanding her work into new areas, including communications work, even though it’s a little outside her comfort zone. It’s good to “open yourself up to possibilities…and stretch in a good way,” Van Berkel said.
Most of the fellowship placements in the legislative branch – more formerly referred to as Congressional Science & Engineering Fellowships – are sponsored by partner societies. See a full list of partners and learn more about them here.