The annual gathering of scientists and engineers worldwide known as the AAAS Annual Meeting took place this year online from February 8-11. And just as in the past, the AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships (STPF) took on an active role to strengthen connections among scientists, engineers, policymakers and others engaged at the intersection of science and public policy.
Along with the gathering’s main attractions – for instance Anthony Fauci’s keynote speech and a ceremony at which he was presented the 2021 AAAS Philip Hauge Abelson Prize – were science policy events and sessions involving many STPF fellows and staff.
The Fellow Flash Talks featured presentations by six STPF fellows – each given just 200 seconds and 10 slides to illuminate an aspect of science in policy. Kathleen Stevens (2019-21 fellow at the State Department) was caught “In the Eye of the Storm: Navigating a Fellowship, a Pandemic, and Foreign Policy as a Viral Immunologist.” As a fellow, she “didn't sleep enough, but quickly learned invaluable lessons about how the interagency operates, policies are generated, promoting policies in international engagements, the power of the AAAS fellowship network, and the importance (and limits) of engaging scientists in policy decision-making.” Presented by Stuart Gluck and Victoria DiStefano (both 2020-21 fellows at the Department of Energy), “A Philosopher and a Geologist Walk into an Office (of Science) and…” was a talk that debunked any notion that a philosopher of science or a geologist might not be the best fit for a science office.
Other talks about science in post-war Iraq, biotech, crisis management, and the transition of the Panama Canal Watershed were given by Shavonn Whiten (2019-21 fellow at the U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID); Alex Dehgan, (2003-05 fellow at State); Ambika Bumb (2019-21 fellow at State); Devin Reese (1996-98 fellow at USAID); and Hal Cardwell (1996-98 USAID and 1998-2000 Overseas Fellow in Panama).
An interactive career workshop given by Allison Truhlar (2019-21 Executive Branch Fellow at the Department of Energy) and STPF recruitment director Jessica Soule provided advice and tools to streamline communication, particularly as exercised by scientists to policymakers and government executives. Truhlar drew from her experiences as an STPF applicant, semi-finalist, and fellow. Applying the "pyramid principle," which begins with the bottom line up front (BLUF), is a simple way to streamline communication, particularly in the fast-paced federal government setting. She counseled participants to focus on a specific ask or recommendation to respect the recipient’s time and make a point succinctly – critical in the age of character limits and overflowing inboxes.
The Annual Meeting wouldn’t be complete without the Science Policy Networking Mixer which each year brings together hundreds of professionals who are passionate about bringing science to policy, including current and alumni fellows. Following a welcome message from STPF Interim Director and former Publisher of Science Beth Rosner, Eve Boyle (2020-21 fellow at the National Science Foundation) demonstrated two winning science-policy themed cocktail and mocktail recipes. Then, attendees were shuffled into small group breakout rooms for free-wheeling camaraderie and conversation.
The STPF program looks forward to next year’s AAAS Annual Meeting on February 17-20.