Q&A with Jennifer Pearl, STPF Director, AAAS

September 25, 2019

Photo credit: Kat Song

Dr. Jennifer Pearl is a mathematician and director of the Science & Technology Policy Fellowships program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). FABBS societies AERA, APA, SRCD, and SPSSI all partner with AAAS to sponsor fellows.

What is the AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowship?

The AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowship (STPF) is the premier opportunity for highly trained scientists and engineers to gain hands-on public policy experience while applying their scientific mindset to important societal challenges. Fellows serve a yearlong assignment in a selected area of the executive, legislative or judicial branch of the federal government in Washington DC.

Fellows accomplish many things; they: help bridge the gap between science and policy; gain an insider’s understanding of how policy is shaped; build skills in leadership and communication; make valuable connections; become a member of an influential network of alumni fellows more than 3,000 strong; and more.

Should behavioral and brain scientists consider applying?

Absolutely! Because of the vast breadth of the policy work carried out in Washington, the STPF program recruits behavioral and brain scientists, social scientists, and scientists and engineers from every other discipline. From opioid addiction to the impacts of social media, behavioral and brain scientists’ expertise and skills are in high demand across the federal government.

Neuroscientists and behavioral scientists have helped shape policy in countless ways. Recently, at the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, Andrew Thompson helped shape international efforts to combat emerging drug threats and develop a global public health alert system for new substances that the international medical community should track.

At the Federal Judicial Center, Andrea Gaede designed and developed a multi-part online neuroscience and law program for federal judges and court officials, including content for expert videos and accompanying educational materials, to provide an introduction to neuroscience and an overview of neuroscientific topics that may arise in federal litigation.

In Congress, Anita Burgos applied her expertise to collaborate with stakeholders, academic experts and federal agencies to draft the bipartisan Emergency Access to Insulin Act (S. 2004) to increase access to insulin for patients who are struggling to afford it. She also met with constituents, universities and other stakeholders about the bill’s potential impact on rural hospitals, mental health treatment centers, and research institutions.

How might behavioral and cognitive scientists best contribute to congressional offices?

All fellows have a unique opportunity to contribute to congressional offices by using their scientific expertise to inform an inquiry into or the direction of policy initiatives. Though some congressional committees may have scientists on staff, scientific expertise in the offices of members of congress is scarce. Behavioral and cognitive scientists in particular have a lot of expert advice to provide offices when it comes to policymaking on technology use (autonomous vehicles, social media, digital privacy); funding for scientific research; STEM education; and more. While any scientist can lobby and participate in congressional visits with various associations and groups, the fellowship provides a structured mechanism for contributing to the work being done on Capitol Hill. To do so, AAAS partners with over 30 scientific societies who sponsor fellowships in the legislative branch.

How does the fellowship fit into an academic career? What are the potential benefits of the fellowship on my scholarship?

Spending an entire year learning the content, policies and practices of a government agency or office is an unparalleled career move that boosts one’s policy credentials. Fellows come away with deep, first-hand knowledge of policy and the federal government – knowledge that can be applied in a number of ways including using it to advance a cause or issue of a fellow’s university or local community. Equipped with a deeper appreciation for the importance of science in informing policy, a fellow may return to their institution to encourage students and other faculty to learn about science policy. Other fellows have incorporated policy into their classes. The fellowship also deepens ones’ understanding of the research funding process, which can be leveraged by the researcher and institution after the fellowship.

Also, if thinking about applying, the schedule of the program follows the academic calendar: the fellowship year runs from September 1 to August 30 each year. This makes is an excellent opportunity for behavioral and brain scientists at all stages of their careers: early career individuals as well as faculty on sabbatical or professionals from the non-profit or industry sectors. The deadline to apply is November 1.

We host live, online chats with fellows so prospective applicants can learn more and ask their own questions. RSVP for the next one here: www.aaas.org/news/2019-chat-series.