Suggestions for gaining experience in science policy, communication and outreach

Posted: September 3, 2014 in advocacy, Life as a post-doc, Policy, Science Communication, Science Outreach

There are a multitude of ways to become involved in science policy, communication and outreach. Until there are more opportunities for formal training in these topics at the undergraduate, graduate and continuing education levels, creativity and maintaining an open mind regarding how to gain experience is important. When possible, seek out help and advice from more experienced colleagues and mentors.

A scientist’s life is already extremely busy, and many find it difficult to find additional time for these learning and engagement opportunities. Do not over commit yourself, be honest with your time constraints and stress levels. I suggest greater participation in one or two things rather than little to no participation in a variety of things.

Open and honest communication with your mentor(s) is crucial. Not all mentors will be equally supportive of endeavors outside of the laboratory, start with explaining why you are interested in these activities and how they will help you in your future career aspirations. Seek outside advice, mentoring and support when required. See here for tips from AAAS on how to maximize your personal mentoring.

This list is not exhaustive and is a work in progress. Please comment additional suggestions and opportunities not listed here.

Suggestions:

Join the Forum on Science, Ethics, and Policy (FOSEP) (if located in Seattle) and sign up for their listserv (for occasional emails containing suggested webinar trainings and events).

Search for and join campus groups related to science policy. Attend events and contribute to discussions. If no such group exists in your area, contact your graduate school and/or student activities office to start your own.

Start a blog or contribute original submissions to an already established blog. SciencePolitics and FOSEP are happy to accept guest posts and advise.

For graduate students: volunteer to serve as a student representative for your department’s council meetings and/or to serve as your department’s representative to the graduate student senate.

For postdocs: volunteer to serve on the postdoctoral affairs committee, if one does not exist on your campus, contact the graduate school to explore the possibility of starting one.

If active on social media (facebook, twitter, linkedin, etc.) connect with science organizations and universities. Many of these groups also have separate accounts for their advocacy arm. Example suggestions: AAAS, OSTP, NIH (and individual institutes), SfN, etc. (local to the PNW: NWABRNSWA, Seattle Town Hall, Pacific Science Center etc.).

Join applicable science policy and advocacy groups hosted through organizations (expl. ASBMB and ASPET). Sign up for their action alerts and emails.

If eligible, apply for applicable “Hill Day” trips to Washington DC. These usually consist of advocacy training, mentoring, and organized meetings with elected officials and their staff. Many early career Hill Day opportunities are funded through travel awards. See ASBMB for an example opportunity.

Sign up for volunteer opportunities through local and national organizations (science and education museums, scientific societies, local nonprofits etc.).

Attend for credit, audit, or sit in on science policy, communication and outreach courses offered at your local institutions (see here for a (partial) list of courses offered at UW). If no courses are offered, MIT’s Science Policy Bootcamp (open courseware) and/or read Beyond Sputnik – US Science Policy in the 21st Century.

Apply for science policy and communication related fellowships. Examples include AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowship and the Christine Mirzayan Science & Technology Policy Graduate Fellowship Program. See here for additional suggestions.

Become active in local and state politics. Attend your legislative district meetings. Participate in election caucuses. Volunteer for city and county commission/committee seats. Volunteer for non-profits and board of directors seats.

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