Serving on an Advisory Committee

Advisory committees are groups of experts that function as a liaison between an organization and the public. An advisory committee does not have decision making authority, but it offers external insights to the organization that can influence agency policy. 

In federal agencies such as the NSF, advisory committees bring people together in a specific area of interest or directorate to give their expertise on grants, specific projects, or issues. Many federal agencies require an advisory committee to influence decision-making.

Participating in an advisory committee is an opportunity to represent your disciplines and societies that you are a member of. Usually, advisory committees try to have a diverse range of members from a wide variety of disciplines that relate to the agency or directorate’s focus. 

Why Serve on an Advisory Committee?

  • Learn about what the agency does
  • Act as a watchdog for violations of policy
  • Receive a different perspective in the grant application process
  • Professional development
  • Impact agency policy

Depending on the advisory committee, the members might have the opportunity to contribute to meeting agendas and meet with the president of the agency. In the NSF SBE Advisory Committee meetings, the meetings with the president can involve a range of general topics, such as funding for SBE. The chief administrative officer sub-reports, and the members gain some insight from the president and the chief administrative officer about what they’ve been doing. 

Sometimes, the meeting with the agency president is more ceremonial than conversational. However, these meetings are still an opportunity for representatives of your discipline to provide their expertise. Connecting with these representatives and sharing ideas about goals or challenges related to agency policy can be impactful.

How to Get Involved

Some advisory committees are invite-only, such as the NSF Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences Advisory Committee. Depending on the agency, they will try to create a committee with professional backgrounds that align with that agency or directorate’s work. For example, the NSF SBE AC advisory committee tends to have more members in academia and in administrative roles than a typical advisory committee in the NIH, which tends to have more clinicians. People with corporate backgrounds and leadership in other areas can also be a member of an advisory committee.

For the general public, there’s always open commentaries available online. These are the best ways that concerned citizens can have an influence in an advisory committee. Also, making connections within a university department, a nonprofit, or another institution can be valuable for reaching a member of an advisory committee to share information as well. Having committed colleagues in your discipline can have collateral benefits for the future of the social and behavioral sciences.

A Typical Advisory Committee Meeting

  • Staff will summarize important activities
  • Usually has guest speakers from other divisions or directorates within the agency 
  • Recap current projects and overlapping visions within the directorate/agency
  • Provide advice to agency leadership on general matters related to the directorate
Sandra Graham 2

This page is made possible thanks to Dr. Sandra Graham, a former board member of FABBS. She is currently serving as a member of the NSF SBE Advisory Committee and is a distinguished professor at UCLA. Her work is instrumental for making the Committee on Equal Opportunities in Science and Engineering Report (NSF) visible.