Career Exploration: Science Policy

By Nina Gao

You’re halfway through your PhD graduate studies and want to put your training to good use on a career that has a broad impact on society. Neither academia nor industry pique your interest… what else is out there?

No, I’m not talking about becoming a vigilante warrior of justice. I’m talking about a career in science policy! Perhaps you were intrigued after reading guests posts by Tamara here and here, but weren’t sure about how to make a full blown career out of it.

I conducted informational interviews with three people working in the science policy field after obtaining PhD’s in biomedical sciences. I got a wealth of advice and tips about what we can do as PhD students. Special thanks to:

What kind of careers are there in the realm of science policy?

There are a lot of different positions available for people interested in work with science policy. They range from jobs in academic societies such as the American Society for Microbiology (ASM), independent non-government organizations like the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and government agencies including (but certainly not limited to) the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and NA SEM.

Science policy roles involve gathering information to guide policy makers to make informed decisions. Many rely heavily on project management, clear communication, and strong proofreading skills. The main goal of the job is to advise and support policies using scientific evidence.

How do I get started?

Getting started can be intimidating and a bit tricky, but don’t worry! The skills necessary for science policy are things that you’re probably already working on: reading, writing, and communication.

Read up on current political news and on-going science policy! Keep reading Politico and check out the sub-reddit on science policy. The ASBMB has an active blog on science policy called “Policy Blotter”, which is great as a starting point. American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) also puts out science policy related articles on “Science Insider”.

Now that you have some issues to talk about, write about them! Start your own blog to discuss important topics, or perhaps contribute to “The BMS Times” *wink wink*! Why not submit an Op-Ed to the editors of the local newspapers, whether it’s at UCSD for “The Guardian” or for the San Diego Tribune? Note that writing about science policy can be different from the writing for research manuscripts that you may be used to. “Rescuing Biomedical Science” has a writing program to help guide science policy writing in the form of blog posts.

As Tamara mentioned previously, visit your representatives and policy makers! This can take form in Hill Days for respective societies and organizations, but you can also pay a visit on your own. The American Institute for Biological Sciences has a resource guide for preparing for a district visit.

Where do I go next?

So you’ve tried a little science policy, and you like what you see. Want to go deeper into science policy? GREAT!

Why not try your hand at proofreading and editing science policy articles? The “Journal of Science Policy and Governance” is a student-run, scholarly journal. It is not a huge time commitment, but the hands-on training exposes current policy issues while also allowing you to develop leadership skills.

Check out official science policy fellow programs. Here at UCSD, we have the Science Policy Fellows (SPF) program. The program is open to all graduate students of UCSD’s Jacobs School of Engineering, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and the School of Medicine. Graduate students are paired with a faculty advisor in the School of Global Policy and Strategy, and they work together to explore policy implications of their dissertational research over course of a year or two.

Consider networking to get to know more people in the field. The National Science Policy Group may also be a useful platform to meet people and learn tips of the trade. Attend conferences on science policy; AAAS puts on the annual “Forum on Science and Technology Policy”. It’s a great opportunity to network, and get in the know about the latest in policy issues.

Finally, the best and possibly easiest way to vault yourself into a science policy career is to get an internship or fellowship in science policy. There are many available, put on by many different groups. These have different requirements and conditions: some fellowships can be done as a 10-week stint during your graduate training, while others are designed for recent PhD graduate as on-the-job training. Dig into more information, and see what fits into your plans. Here are a few better known ones to get you started:


In summary:

  •         Consider a career in science policy!
  •         Get experience and get exposure. Find some people with fun position you like and conduct informational interviews
  •         Read, write, and stay informed. Communication is a great skill no matter what career!


Want more? Check out these resources:



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