Choosing Science Policy, Science Administration
A career in science policy is most rewarding for someone who wants to leave the lab bench but wants to continue to be part of the scientific enterprise. Internships are a common pathway to help you transition from lab bench to office/committee room. There are a myriad of possible careers in science policy; the nature of those jobs varies tremendously. Opportunities span the government, academic, not-for-profit, and for-profit sectors and include a range of activities from legislative relations to communications to policy analysis and development. Within each of those domains, science policy may be viewed as falling into two main categories: science for policy and policy for science. The former refers to the application of scientific information to policy questions (e.g., using scientific data to set a maximum level for the concentration of a particular toxin in drinking water). The latter refers to the development and implementation of polices related to supporting and regulating science (e.g., determining appropriate science funding levels). Scientists are highly valued in both of these areas.
Within the federal government, scientists with a background in policy may serve as Congressional staffers, providing expert scientific advice on legislative issues. They could also work in one of the many science agencies, such as helping to set grant policies or facilitate scientific review at the National Institutes of Health, consider applications for new drugs and devices at the Food and Drug Administration, or develop air quality standards for the Environmental Protection Agency. Not-for-profit scientific and professional societies also employ scientists in policy positions where they may track and analyze science-related legislation, develop policy recommendations, or craft strategies for communicating scientific information to the lay public. Foundations with scientific and health-related missions also hire scientists to help identify emerging areas of research and enable the foundations to make strategic investments.
Scientists with an interest in policy are also valuable in the industrial sector. For example, those with knowledge of government and regulatory affairs can be an asset to pharmaceutical companies and biotechnology firms. Scientific training often enables scientists to develop a number of policy-relevant skills, making it possible to secure an entry-level position without formal policy training. However, many may find it helpful to acquire additional skills that will be useful in policy careers, such as non-technical writing or leadership and management. Those with a strong interest in policy may want to consider internship and fellowship opportunities aimed at helping scientists transition into science policy careers.