Careers in science policy are based on communicating science to policy-makers, and communicating policy to scientists. For example, many elected officials are not experts in science, so they hire expert
advisors to provide balanced scientific information about all sides of the issues, in order to make
informed decisions. Many government agencies use
analysts to turn policy into rules and regulations,
which then must be communicated and applied to
all interested parties.
Careers in science policy exist not only in the
federal government (mostly in the legislative and
executive branches, but some in the judicial as well)
but also in state governments, professional organizations, scientific societies, non-governmental organizations, lobbying groups, and even independent
Depending on the type of position, analysts may
specialize in a specific area, such as energy or biotechnology. Alternatively, they may be generalists,
responsible for knowing a little about all aspects of
all types of science. For example, a state government
position might focus on the types of technologies
that are prevalent in that state, while a nonprofit agency employee
could specialize in the technologies that are relevant to their organization’s particular mission.
Increasingly, universities have staff who serve as liaisons
between the university and government funding agencies, potentially involving some lobbying activities. They may work in a university development office, conveying information about potential
funding opportunities to university employees. Or they may
work in a government liaison office, sharing results of university
research with state officials. Another position in academia involves
managing institutional review boards, ensuring that research is
conducted ethically and following all appropriate guidelines.
Job titles vary widely in this field. The most common are Science
Policy Advisor, Public Policy Specialist, Analyst, Coordinator, Officer,
Director, and others.
There are many people competing in this field, so you may have to
take a lower-level position or unpaid internship just to get started.
It is possible to do a science policy fellowship for a year or two and
Future employment trends
then return to scientific research with a more thorough under-
standing of how decisions are made. If you decide to stay in the sci-
ence policy field, higher-level positions usually involve dealing with
larger and more complex issues and supervisory responsibilities.
Employment opportunities for science policy specialists are
growing, due to increased interest and public input on science-related policy issues, but are growing more slowly than average. In
addition, there is strong competition for available positions.
Is this career a good fit for you?
Much policy work is conducted at a very fast pace — a hearing
may be called and testimony required in a matter of days, or a new
regulation passed with a short time frame before implementation.
Scientists are trained to conduct thorough research and evaluate all options before forming an opinion, so reacting quickly can
sometimes be a challenge. You must have confidence in your scientific knowledge and be able to communicate it credibly to both
scientists and government officials.
Shaping the Big Picture
BY ACS STAFF