Interview with Rashada Alexander, Director of AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowship

1. What is the AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowship?

I’d love to start by telling you a true thing about me: The AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowship (STPF) program transformed me, professionally and personally. After earning a Ph.D. in chemistry from and completing postdoctoral work at the University of Kentucky and at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, I joined the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as an STPF fellow for two consecutive yearlong fellowships from 2009 to 2011. Before the fellowship, I realized that I wanted to keep contributing positively to science, but in a way that was different from being a laboratory researcher. Until I found STPF, I had no idea how many cool ways I could take my training in chemistry and go on to Washington to help ensure that US policy is informed by science. In my case, I served as a health science policy analyst in the NIH Office of Extramural Research.

In a nutshell, that’s what the STPF fellowship is all about. We bring highly accomplished scientists and engineers to all three branches of federal government so that they can gain hands-on policymaking savvy and skills, while contributing their scientific training and perspective in their federal government host offices.

This year, STPF is bringing to a close the official celebration of its 50th anniversary! I am inspired and grateful to be leading the program into its next half century to continue our mission to connect science with policy. Fostering a network of science and engineering leaders who understand government and policymaking means building a cadre of “do-ers.” These folks are prepared to develop and execute solutions to address societal challenges – of which there are plenty! I’m also excited to grow the program in areas such as activating our alumni network.

2. Should behavioral and brain scientists consider applying?

Behavioral and brain scientists should absolutely apply! Federal policymaking touches on virtually every issue under the sun, so STPF recruits behavioral and brain scientists, social scientists, and scientists and engineers from every other discipline. From artificial intelligence and climate change to the impacts of social media, behavioral and brain scientists’ expertise and skills are in high demand across the federal government.

Neuroscientist Zane Martin contributed to the development of a publicly available data resource designed to increase reproducibility, transparency and translatability of preclinical efficacy studies of candidate therapeutics for Alzheimer’s disease. She was awarded the NIH Award of Merit in recognition of her efforts. Psychologist Chisina Kapungu’s work in the US Senate led to the inclusion of funds to train health care workers to handle Ebola in the FY15 omnibus spending bill. Anthropologist Ariela Zycherman was a fellow at the National Science Foundation where she focused on the integration of social sciences in federal climate change policymaking. Today, she is at NOAA where she looks at how community needs influence policies, and how those policies impact their ability to adapt to climate impacts. There are scores of other exciting stories from STPF fellows who are behavioral or brain scientists.

Here’s a graphical look at how important behavioral and brain scientists are to the STPF mission: this chart shows the qualifying discipline of STPF fellows 2016-20.

3. How might behavioral and brain scientists best contribute to congressional offices?

Though some congressional committees may have scientists on staff, scientific expertise in the offices of Members of Congress is scarce. Behavioral and cognitive scientists have a lot of expert advice to provide offices when it comes to policymaking on technology use; funding for scientific research; STEM education; and more.

Fellows serve alongside congressional staff bringing scientific rigor and expertise to a wide variety of activities including:

•    Briefing Members of Congress and staff on scientific and technical topics.

•    Meeting with constituents and special interest groups.

•    Writing issue and policy briefs, talking points, speeches, and press releases.

•    Drafting and negotiating text for legislation.

•    Staffing budget authorization bills from preliminary agency reviews to House-Senate conferences.

•    Planning and implementing events in Washington and in congressional districts.

While any scientist can lobby or participate in congressional visits, the STPF fellowship is a unique and wholly immersive learning experience on Capitol Hill. AAAS partners with more than 20 other scientific societies to sponsor fellows in the legislative branch.

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

Gaining hands-on experience for an entire year and learning the content, policies and practices of a government agency, branch, or office adds huge value to a person’s understanding of the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) enterprise – and their overall career potential. Fellows come away with deep, first-hand knowledge of policy and the federal government – knowledge that can be applied in several 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, many fellows return to their institution to encourage students and other faculty to learn about science policy. Yet other fellows have incorporated policy into their classes, and many become more engaged in policy-relevant service, such as advisory boards for scientific societies and nonprofits, and as experts on panels. The STPF fellowship also deepens ones’ understanding of the research funding process, which can be leveraged by the researcher and institution after the fellowship.

The fellowship year follows the academic calendar and runs from September 1 to August 30 each year. This makes for 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 nonprofit or industry sectors.

5. How can interested individuals learn more?

My experience as a fellow imparted valuable lessons I couldn’t have gained elsewhere and set me on a new career path, and I hope I’ve inspired your readers to learn more about becoming an STPF fellow at

We also host live, online chats with fellows for prospective applicants to hear about personal fellowship experiences and have a chance to ask their own questions. RSVP for the next one here:

The deadline to apply is November 1.