Climbing Down The Tower

Musings on leaving academia for the real world

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

AAAS Fellowships

Everyone I've talked to in D.C. about moving from academia to policy/non-profit stuff had one program in mind: the AAAS Science & Technology Fellowships. The link for this program is here:
and the deadline for applications is December 20, 2006. Be aware that these one-year fellowships wouldn't start until next September, 2007, so you have to be able to plan ahead. For example, when the deadline happened last year, my plans had not come together enough for me to apply. Of course, if you're a soon-to-be-PhD on the post-doc track, you're already starting to apply for next year anyway and you should definitely look at this as an interesting option.

I will confess that when I first heard about the AAAS Fellowships, I was a little non-plussed. Their online description makes the job sound a little like being a soulless bureaucrat, and I wondered if my job would mainly involve explaining science to politicians who either weren't interested or were actively hostile to the results and conclusions. However, the people I've talked to about this program (including two former Fellows) would say that having a AAAS Fellowship on your resume automatically gives you a ton of credibility in the policy world. You're no longer 'just' a scientist -- you're a scientist who knows how the system works, how it can be made to work better, and how it can be changed.

On a more practical level, the Fellowships are essentially entry level positions for people with Ph.D.s and other advanced degrees. They're looking for people with exactly your background. One former fellow I talked to said that a successful application has 3 parts:
  1. Strong Science Cred: That you have a Ph.D. (or other advanced degree) with a good list of publications and strong academic references. In other words, just what you would need in a post-doc application: proof that you're a quality scientist.
  2. A realization that there is a world beyond science: Some evidence of an interest in politics, policy, activism, volunteering, or whatever -- some proof that you're interested and engaged with the world beyond the lab.
  3. A plan: Some idea of what you would want to do in the world of science policy if you could do anything. My understanding is that this isn't a specific proposal (and they won't be asking you to implement it), but just as an example of your interests and thoughtfulness about these issues.
And, lest you think this is an unattainable position, there is a list of all past fellows on the AAAS website, and in recent years they've selected over 100 people per year (although I'm sure it's still really competitive). Anyway, there's lots more to be said on this, and more info on the website, but I just wanted to pass along a recommendation given many times over to me: AAAS is cool - check it out.