Getting Involved in Science Policy (as a Scientist)

What is science policy?
Science policy is a broad term encompassing a range of different career paths relevant to governmental allocation of resources towards scientific research. This can include job roles such as science communicator, science policy analyst, and scientific advisor for government agencies. Because of the large amount of funding needed for scientific research, legislation concerning scientific policy in most countries is often approved at a national or international level, and only a few countries have a provincial or state-level scientific policy apparatus.

How do different science policy roles fit together?
Science policy often starts with an advocacy group (such as scientists in ISEH) having a special interest in passing a piece of legislation (such as governmental funding to study a disease, or modifying regulations surrounding a research topic). In the US, an advocacy group starts by meeting with the staff of an elected representative who sits on the relevant committee. During the meeting, the advocacy group is expected to submit material discussing the pros and cons of passing new legislation on the topic. If the lawmaker is convinced that this legislature is in the best interest of the public, their staff then drafts the scientific policy and accompanying background to be discussed by a committee of lawmakers. During the process of drafting legislation, it is possible that senior scientists (often academic and industry leaders) working in the field who are involved in part-time governmental advisory roles will provide input on the new legislature’s impacts. Subsequently, the legislation then undergoes a stringent process of back-and-forth evaluation, discussions, and voting before it can be passed. If the legislation is passed, individuals in industry and academic roles will then change their course of action according to the modified scientific policy.

Frequently, individuals actively involved in scientific policy work have a scientific background. Notably, it is possible to do science policy part-time alongside a research role. For example, senior academic scientists are often involved in science policy as governmental science policy advisors alongside an academic position, or after retiring from an academic position. However, at lower level non-advisory roles, governmental science policy job positions tend to be full-time roles as policy analysts. Instead of advising on drafted scientific policy, these science policy job positions involve creating and drafting scientific policy legislation, analyzing impact of past legislation and the potential impact of the law under consideration, and summarizing their findings into reports for key stakeholders and elected officials to consider.

Getting started in scientific policy
A simple first step to see if science policy is the right path for you is to gain an understanding of the types of jobs which exist and which might be a good fit for you. And the easiest way to do this is to speak with people actively involved in positions you might be interested in. Linkedin is a great resource with which to search for specific jobs or organizations of interest, and identify individuals with whom you might have a mutual connection with, such as a shared friend or alma mater. By speaking with individuals in a scientific policy position, you will better-understand what type of work science policy job roles entail and how to better-prepare for them.

In parallel to gathering information from speaking with people, it may be a good idea to test the waters with online courses to see if it is the right job fit for you. Online courses offered for free or at relatively low prices, such as through EdX and Coursera, can be a simple way to learn more about science policy practices and gain the basic skills and terminology needed to succeed in a science policy job role. Similarly, many large universities freely publish course material online, which can be a great resource to better-understand science policy practices.

Finally, as with most job positions, the best way to see if a science policy job is the right role for you is to try it out yourself. Science policy work can be started in parallel to work or studies, whether you’re a senior postdoc or an undergraduate student. A common transition step into science policy is to first try out becoming a science communicator or doing public engagement work. This will give you a better understanding of what the general public might be interested in, as well as improve your ability to simplify complex scientific details into condensed, more easily understood facts. Some ways to get started with science communication might be publishing social media or blog posts on interesting scientific news, or helping to raise awareness of lesser-known scientific issues through public engagement events such as school educational days.

Another way to transition into science policy is through defined fellowships. As a result of the low number of scientists involved in science policy work, there has been an increasing number of fellowships designed for PhD-level scientists to become involved in public policy work. In the US, such programs include the AAAS Fellows program, which places PhD-awarded US citizens in various branches of government to perform science policy work. In addition, many scientific societies (such as American Society for Hematology (ASH)) are frequently looking for scientists to take more active roles in scientific policy development, such as to rally the public and lobby legislators for support. Working through scientific societies can be a great way to gain more engagement with the governmental science policy procedures.

Concluding Remarks
As our understanding of science grows ever-more complex, more scientific policy officers are needed than ever before to act as a liaison between the scientific community and the general public, whether that means posting science through social media channels to reach different audiences or discussing the benefits of scientific research with members of our lawmaking bodies. Through work in science policy, we can help ensure that our scientific goals remain a priority for our legislators, communities, and society at large.

Blog post contributed by Ian Hsu (@ian_hsu7), Anne Stolz (@AnneStolz2), and the 2023-2024 ISEH New Investigators Committee

Please note that the statements made by Simply Blood authors are their own views and not necessarily the views of ISEH. ISEH disclaims any or all liability arising from any author's statements or materials.


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