For the 47th year, scientists and engineers participating in the American Association for the Advancement of Science's Science & Technology Policy Fellowships came to Washington, D.C., to immerse themselves in science policy and to apply their scientific expertise throughout the federal government. The program was conceived as and continues to be a strong partnership between AAAS and other scientific societies.
Before beginning their yearlong assignments, fellows took part in a two-week orientation – a “federal policy boot camp” according to STPF Director Jennifer Pearl – to prepare themselves for the challenges and opportunities ahead.
“You are about to embark on a transformative experience,” said Alan Leshner, interim CEO of AAAS, to the group of 178 first-year 2019-20 fellows, who represent a wide range of scientific disciplines. The full class of 273 fellows includes 95 fellows serving a second year.
The S&T Policy Fellowship is “an extraordinary opportunity and an extraordinary responsibility,” said Margaret Hamburg, AAAS chair of the board.
“You care about science and society, and you care about using science to address the most important and pressing challenges of our day,” said Hamburg, citing climate change, environmental degradation, pandemics and energy security. “Being able to interject that science and technological understanding into the broader framework of politics and policymaking – that’s how we’re going to achieve meaningful, sustainable change.”
Hamburg added that today’s consequential challenges are complicated by divided views about the value of scientific evidence and the role that science should play in policymaking.
Now, said Pearl, “is the time for hard work.”
The fellows’ year of hard work began with an extensive overview of science policy and tutorials on the structures and functions of the executive, judicial and legislative branches. Over the coming year, 240 fellows will serve in executive branch agencies and 33 will serve in the offices of members of Congress or on congressional committees.
The orientation offered fellows briefings on subjects like national security, economic policy and science diplomacy. They also participated in workshops to develop effective communications skills for an environment, culture and timeline unlike the work environments from which they hail.
Participants also heard from policy experts and policymakers, many of whom will have fellows working in their offices this year.
“There is no better time in the history of mankind to be in the fields that we are in,” said Kelvin Droegemeier, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and White House science adviser. “Our understanding of the physical world, of the natural world, of the biological world has just become extraordinary. It’s an amazing time with the capabilities we have,” said Droegemeier as he described the work of the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the administration’s recently released science priorities.
The orientation also served as an opportunity for fellows to receive guidance from science policy veterans on how to make the most of their year as they help shape both policy and their future careers.
“Adopt the goal of impact,” rather than focusing on status or prestige, Leshner said.
Massachusetts Sen. Edward Markey called upon fellows to find ways to make progress even when big challenges seem immovable. “You can really make a mark on Capitol Hill, in the executive branch,” said Markey.
Hamburg urged fellows to be open to new pathways, whether they continue working in the policy realm after their fellowship ends or incorporate new perspectives into their careers in science and engineering. Hamburg, who served as commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and New York City health commissioner, shared her own journey from Harvard Medical School to health and science policy in the early days of the AIDS crisis – an unexpected path that prompted resistance from supervisors and family members concerned she was throwing away her medical degree.
Said Hamburg, “It’s also enormously rewarding to take all that training I had in science and medicine and apply it to broader issues and challenges.”