2005-07 Diplomacy Fellow at the U.S. Department of Defense
Prior to learning about the AAAS Science & Technology Fellowships, I had been working for three years as a laser physicist/project manager at DRS Technologies. The work was challenging, yet personally unfulfilling. Feeling a strong desire to make more of a difference in my life and in the lives of others, as well as to engage in issues that I would not find in the laboratory or corporate office, I chose to apply for a AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowship in hopes that it would expand my career options and lead to a different vocation.
My first application to the AAAS Science & Technology Fellowships was politely rejected, which placed me in the situation of deciding whether I would continue on with my current career or be bold, redouble my efforts and apply again. Fortunately, I chose the latter and reapplied the following year while working at ITT-AES. From my second application came an invitation to be interviewed, followed by a formal phone call naming me as a finalist, which ended with me accepting a position within the Department of Defense (DoD) Office of Naval Research (ONR).
The reason I choose ONR was because I felt ONR would expose me to opportunities and projects that would intersect science, management and policy. This was important because I wanted to involve myself in the policy making process yet not stray too far from my original training. Also, ONR had a reputation of finding unique and challenging projects for AAAS Fellows.
My first objective at ONR involved program development for a basic research program called Materials for Forensic Sensing (MFS). The program’s purpose was to fund basic research that would sow the seeds for future Naval capabilities. The MFS program focused on developing nanotechnology and biomaterials to aid the US warfighter in combating terrorism.
My main objective was to develop this program and provide a technical roadmap and strategy for program enhancements in the future. There also needed to be an investment policy to help set guidelines into what technologies we would invest in and which ones we would not. Therefore, after reviewing the program I came up with an overall strategy which would allow me to visit US research universities and national labs and technical conferences to talk to experts in the field and ascertain what types of research would need to be invested in to further ONR’s MFS program.
I also took the initiative and developed a MFS workshop focusing on nanotechnology and biotechnology. The experts at this workshop recommended priorities for future ONR research and development, and aided in determining the critical R&D questions in the nanotech/biotech fields.
Another significant opportunity arose when I was asked to serve on ONR’s strategic planning cell created by the Director of Research (DOR) for the Chief of Naval Research (CNR). The CNR needed to develop a Naval Science and Technology (S&T) strategy to ensure that ONR’s S&T investment was responsive to Naval needs and enabled innovative Naval operational concepts.
As a member of the strategic cell, I had the rare opportunity to interact and engage with extremely smart and driven individuals. I was granted the task of developing and writing sections of the strategic plan, and brief US Navy, Army and Marine Generals and Admirals. I also was honored to give part of the final brief to the Naval S&T Corporate Board, who eventually approved the plan.
I strongly believe that I received what I put into my AAAS fellowship. Through the professional development and networking activities, I was exposed to policy programs and career development workshops/courses, and I developed a network of friends and coworkers with whom I plan to maintain contact with well after my fellowship ends. I strongly recommend this fellowship experience to anyone who wants to experience a “non-traditional” opportunity once past their Ph.D.