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Text Chat Archive: STPF Q&A Hour

Salaeha Shariff:

Good afternoon, and welcome to the sixth in the AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships chat series. If you’re joining us for the first-time welcome, and if you’ve participated in previous chats, welcome back. My name is Salaeha Shariff, and I am the Director of Outreach & Recruitment for the AAAS S&T Policy Fellowships (STPF). On today’s chat, the entire hour will be focused on your questions. Use the question box to start submitting your questions. 

The deadline to apply for the 2018-19 fellowship year is November 1, 2017. 

All eligibility requirements must be completed on or before November 1. Eligibility requirements include US citizenship and a doctoral level degree in any of the following: 

•Medical and Health sciences.
•Biological, Physical or Earth sciences.
•Social and Behavioral sciences.
•Computational sciences and Mathematics.
•Engineers with an MS in engineering and three years of engineering related professional experience are also eligible to apply. 

AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships is the premier opportunity to take your research and training to the next level and transform your career in the process. 

AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships are offered in all three branches of federal government. The Executive branch fellowships are federal agency placements and we award approximately 150 Executive Branch placements each year. Legislative Branch fellowships are in Congressional offices or House/Senate committees. AAAS sponsors two Legislative Branch fellows each year. The Judicial fellowship is at the Federal Judicial Center and we award one Judicial fellowship each year. Applicants can and should consider applying to more than one fellowship. You can learn more about each program area, including potential host offices, by clicking the “Become a Fellow” link on the fellowships website. 

As a AAAS S&T Policy Fellow you are spending a year in an immersive policy experience. You are taking your discipline and area of expertise and applying it broadly to policy. The fellowship is not a research or post-doc experience. It is a professional development opportunity for you to bring STEM expertise to policy and gain a stronger understanding of how policy affects science, as well as develop an extensive network.

Fellows in this program represent a broad range of career stages, you can apply at any point in your career, and diverse disciplinary backgrounds, which includes the sciences, social sciences, health/medical and engineering backgrounds. 

At the end of the year, STPF fellows join a global corp of STEM leaders who understand government and policymaking and are equipped to develop and execute solutions to address societal challenges- across all sectors. 

After the chat, visit to learn more about eligibility and fellowship programmatic areas- you may apply for up to two.

Now, let’s turn to your questions. As a reminder, use the chat/question box to submit your question. 

Audience Question

Q: During the application process are you allowed to apply for multiple placements, and could you describe how that works?

A: Applicants can apply to two fellowship areas. While it may not be an obvious fit at first glance, the government needs more diverse STEM expertise in all three branches of the federal government and you may be surprised at what you learn during the selection and placement process. Be sure to tailor your candidate statement of interest for each fellowship area. If you are applying to two program areas, only one verification form needs to be submitted. 

Audience Question

Q: What do people usually do in the year between applying and beginning the fellowship? Since they've already defended, do they start a post-doc or something else?

A: As applicants are at various career stages and in various sectors when they apply to the fellowship, what they do during this time period also varies. They may start or extend a post-doc, work as a consultant or continue in their current positions. 

Audience Question

Q: Will there be opportunity to be mentored by fellowship alumni?

A: Yes, there are many opportunities for current and alumni fellows to connect during the fellowship year. Connections are fostered through formal or informal mentorships. Alumni fellows regularly speak at orientation and monthly professional development workshops. Alumni attend affinity group events and informal social gatherings hosted by current fellows. In fact, the connections begin even before the start of the fellowship year, as candidates connect with current fellows during the interview and placement process.

Audience Question

Q: Hello, I'd like to hear about what applicants usually do after they submit applications. Since you have already defended your thesis, do most start a postdoc in the meantime?

A: Hi Jackie, please see my earlier response to this question.

Audience Question

Q: How are the Skills and Policy Interests that we indicate on the application used in the application and placement? Are there specific quantities of fellows in each area that are being recruited? 
How are the Skills and Policy Interests that we indicate on the application used in the application and placement? Are there specific quantities of fellows in each area that are being recruited?

A: The skills and policy interests are used by the host offices/agencies. This happens during one of the final stages of the selection process when you have a chance to interview with interested host offices. 

Audience Question

Q: I woud am also curious why there are many more placements in the Executive Branch than Congressional Branch?

A: Executive Branch fellows are sponsored by federal agencies. Legislative branch fellows are sponsored by professional societies. AAAS hosts two legislative branch fellows and we have 33 partner societies that sponsor 1-2 legislative branch fellows each year.

Audience Question

Q: How important is the applicant's publication record? Particularly for someone with a PhD who has spent approx. 10 years teaching?

A: Each applicant is evaluated based on their career/academic stage. For applicants who are further along in their careers publications are important but not the sole criterion that makes an applicant competitive. 

Audience Question

Q: Has the webinar commenced by now? I cannot hear anything.

A: The webinar has commenced, but you shouldn't hear anything as this is a text-based chat. Please submit any questions via the Questions/Chat box.

Audience Question

Q: Any tips for a writing a strong candidate statement.

A: Highlight your communication skills, interest in public service, leadership and ability to be flexible in the position. Make sure you paint a full picture of your background- both in and outside academia.

Audience Question

Q: What is the acceptance rate for applications to the Executive branch?

A: The acceptance rate varies each year and varies among the program areas.

Audience Question

Q: How likely is it to work on policies that have global impact?

A: Fellows at various host offices such as USAID, State Department, MCC and others have opportunities to work on global science policy intiatives.

Audience Question

Q: Do most fellows stay in the federal government after the program? Or do most of them go back to academia or to the private sector?

A: Fellows pursue career opportunities in all sectors following their fellowship. The networks and skill sets fellows gain allow them to pursue opportunities they may otherwise never have considered or have been aware of.

Audience Question

Q: How many fellows are hosted at USAID each year?

A: The number of fellows at USAID and all host agencies varies from year to year.

Audience Question

Q: Who are the MCC and the USAID? (I am new here)

A: The MCC is the Millenium Challenge Corporation, USAID is the United States Agency for International Development.

Audience Question

Q: Resending question: For the main essay, how much detail should I provide about how I can contribute to each specific policy area of interest? 

A: You want to strike the right balance between indicating your area of policy interest but ensuring that you are flexible to pursue a variety of placement opportunities. Keep in mind that your application is intially being reviewed for suitability to the program as a whole- not a specific agency placement.

Audience Question

Q: The application asks you to select 3 policy areas of interest, though there is clearly overlap among many of the areas. How important are those selections for matching you with an agency. That is, by not selecting a specific policy interest, am I automatically not being considered by certain agencies. Or do most agencies consider applicants in several of those policy interest areas?

A: You are not limiting yourself. Agencies consider applicants in several areas of policy interest.

Audience Question

Q: How much overlap is appropriate to have in the different candidate statements? I understand the need to tailor some of it to Executive or Congressional placements but my background and policy interests are the same for both

A: Keep in mind that the policy experience is different in the Executive and Legislative- so tailor your candidate statement accordingly. As a legislative fellow your working in a broad science advisory expert capacity. Executive branch fellows are working in specific offices/programs.

Audience Question

Q: Do we need to make any reference to specific agencies?

A: You can highlight areas of policy interest for an agency but you don't want to indicate that your only seeking opportunities at just a few/particular agencies.

Audience Question

Q: what are the criteria for suitability for the program as a whole?

A: Please see earlier response to this question.

Audience Question

Q: For the Executive Branch Fellowship, do we just submit one application to be considered for all the policy sub categories (eg. Development, Energy, Environment & Agriculture, etc.)? Or should I write up to two Candidate Statements if I want to be considered for different areas within the Executive Branch?

A: You need to submit one candidate statement for the fellowship area, i.e. Executive Branch. You do not need to submit statements for policy sub categories.

Audience Question

Q: What is expected in the sections that are right after the statement box for any additional information, please?

A: These sections are for you to provide any information you would like the application reviewers to know which you felt you did not get to mention or expand on in your previous responses.

Audience Question

Q: I have a few specific questions about the candidate statement. The detailed instructitons ask one to 1.Outline the policy areas or issues that you are particularly interested in addressing in a fellowship. Should these come straight from the website describing executive branch opportunites or should can it be more broad and 2. Describe how you imagine you might apply your expertise to the particular fellowship to which you are applying. I wondering what this second portion is trying to get at and if you can elaborate or give an example, that would be great.

A: 1. It should highlight what is of personal interest to you in the policy realm- not what's highlighted on the website which is very broad. 2. What do you hope to contribute and gain from the fellowship experience. Think about the broader ways you can apply your discipline/training to policy.

Audience Question

Q: how is the typical day of a fellow structured? how efectively do they invest their time, in what kind of activities?

A: A typical day for a fellow varies widely depending on the office they are placed in, and ranges from writing policy memos to attending meetings or hosting events.

Audience Question

Q: are most applicatants coming from a postdoc?

A: Fellows come from all career stages. A large percentage of fellows each year are 1-5 years out of their PhD programs. There is no limitation for how many years post-PhD you can apply to the fellowships.

Audience Question

Q: For those not accepted, are there other related opportunities or suggestions for gaining these skill sets?

A: The following two links provide lists of similar opportunities for those interested in Science & Policy: ,

Audience Question

Q: Approximately how many applications have been received for this year?

A: Application numbers vary each year and vary for each program area.

Audience Question

Q: is the life of a fellow similar to, say, his or her life at a think-tank?

A: Each fellows' day differs depending on their host office placement. Some have a more traditional 9-5 schedule, others may have travel obligations and others may have longer days on Capitol Hill.

Audience Question

Q: What is expected from the references, please?

A: Please review the references section on the application website. We provide details guidance there.

Audience Question

Q: Having apply for a grant for a specific training in executive program administration and policy and been awarded for can that help a candidate to succefully join the fellowship program?

A: Without knowing specifics of your program, I cannot speak to a particular program. Generally, you wanto to highlight all the relevant skill sets you bring to policy (communication, leadership,etc) in addition to a strong academic background.

Audience Question

Q: Will there be a similar Q&A section prior to the next stage of the application process?

A: No, this is the final live chat in the series.

Audience Question

Q: I would assume that writing a policy memo is not the outcome of a set of decisions or of an individual heuristics conducted in  isolation...Thus, how do they really get produced, and who are the tradiitonal targets who will read this material?

A: If you are invited to the second stage of the interview process and asked to write a policy memo you will be provided with necessary instructions.

Audience Question

Q: Can you talk about the interview process more? How long does the virtual interview last? What kinds of questions will we get if we make it to that stage? Is there a certain percentage that makes it to that round? Any tips for preparing for this phase?

A: The video interview is 30 minutes long and the first part of the interview you present your policy memo and the remainder of the time you are asked various questions similiar to a job interview. This is an opportunity for the committee to learn more about you and your background. Previous live chats which are all archived on our website are a good way to prepare- fellows and alumni provide great advice.

Audience Question

Q: What are the different skills necessary for the Executive and Legislative branch fellowships?

A: Skill sets are similar- you want to consider which area of policy interests you the most. How do you want to engage and are you more comfortable working in a federal agency  focusing in a particualr area or are you interested in working in a Congressional office on any number of issues.

Audience Question

Q: What does the week of placement interviews look like?

A: Semi-finalist candidates for the Executive Branch come to DC and spend a week interviewing with various host offices. You learn more about what types of projects you'd be working on and host offices learn more about you and your background. At the end of the week there is a ranking system on both sides. Placements are made similiar to a residency match.

Audience Question

Q: What kind of policy-related experience do you see on the CVs of successful applicants - have they volunteered on committees at their school or workplace, gotten involved in community projects, taken on leadership roles at work or in their community, etc.?

A: Yes- these are all great experiences to highlight in your application as it highlights your committment to public service, communication to broad audiences and leadership- all important skills to effectively navigate the world of policy.

Audience Question

Q: Is it necessary to have some science communication experience? i.e. a blog or writing for media?

A: Great to include but not necessary. Think about the different groups/audiences you've engaged with in/outside academia and include that in your application.

Audience Question

Q: what percentage of fellows come straight from their graduate work? I have heard that is is preferred that you have completed some post-graduate work.

A: Please see previous esponse to a similar question.

Audience Question

Q: is international experience and the command of a set of different languages perceived as a positive? or limits your possiblities as...overqualified?

A: A positive- definitely not overqualified. The committee is looking to see who you are in and outside academia.

Audience Question

Q: What if a referencee is not really fluent in English, how can he/she be supported?

A: We do not provide support services for references. I encourage you to work with your references separately on this issue.

Audience Question

Q: Do you have any suggestions for what are some things to avoid in your application? Or what makes for a weaker application?

A: Avoid being too specific in terms of an agency placement. Ensure you tell the full story of who you are- the sum totality of all the experiences you bring to the fellowship.

Audience Question

Q: I received feedback from my application last year stating that I was not far enough in my career to be considered. Since then, I have been gaining experience in the private sector. How can I market my skills and expertise better?

A: Highlight all the additional experiences you've gained since your last application- including your time in the private sector.