Unlike many scientific careers, policy work is often fast-paced. It also involves doing a lot of background research and the ability to distill and communicate scientific information to non-scientists.
Typical Job Functions
Careers in science policy involve communicating science to policy makers, and communicating policy to scientists. Most elected officials rely on advisors to provide balanced scientific information about all sides of the issues they will be debating and voting on.
Science policy opportunities exist in the federal and state governments, professional organizations, scientific societies, non-governmental organizations, lobbying groups, and independent think-tanks. Positions in this field may be generalist or may specialize in a specific area (e.g., energy, biotechnology, etc.).
Increasingly, universities have liaisons whose job it is to a) convey information about potential government funding opportunities to university employees, and b) communicate the results of university research to state officials. Academic institutions may also employ someone to manage their review boards, ensuring that research is conducted ethically and follows guidelines.
Typical responsibilities of someone engaged in a career in science policy include:
- Collect and compile background information on a particular issue; write summary documents explaining all sides of the issue
- Advocate for increased funding for particular programs
- Write talking points on a particular hot topic on a short deadline
- Organize conferences or panel discussions
- Inform scientists about the impacts of new or changed legislation on their research
- Assess the uses, benefits and economic impacts of certain classes of chemicals, by collecting and analyzing data on application methods, effectiveness, and quantities used
- Interpret laws, regulations, agency policy manuals, and directives to identify how these regulations may impact potential developments
The majority of public policy positions are in Washington, D.C., and the surrounding areas. The work is conducted in an office setting, with lots of time spent reading background research and writing reports. Your coworkers will be attorneys and politicians, with a few scientists.
Job titles vary widely, and can include Science Policy Advisor or Public Policy Specialist, Analyst or Director.
Due to fierce competition in the field, careers in science policy usually begin in low-level positions or unpaid internships. It is possible to do a science policy fellowship for a year or two. Advancement in the science policy field usually comes in the form of larger and more complex issues to deal with, and supervisory responsibilities.
Working in science policy requires training in both science and public policy issues. Getting started usually involves getting an undergraduate degree in a science, then professional experience, then an advanced education in science policy.
Useful activities for anyone interested in pursuing science policy include:
- Working or volunteering with organizations involved in social issues—or political action committees—to gain relevant experience.
- Tutoring younger students in science classes to learn how to explain scientific concepts in basic terms.