From Bench Scientist to Policy Analyst
Being a principal investigator with tons of grant funding is awesome. But what if it’s not quite for you? Chronicle Vitae recently ran an interview with Dr. Chris Pickett, a science policy analyst at the American Society for Biomechmistry and Molecular Biology who analyzes how public policy affects scientists, from funding to training to regularory burden. He talks about how he got into his current field, the skills and background needed (including why experience doing science is invaluable), and what he’s doing today.
What kind of experience is needed to do the job you have now?
If you’re coming from the lab bench, you need to have good communication skills. You need to be comfortable relating what you know to a variety of audiences. Typically, the work you’ll do in policy has very little to do with your specific research area. In addition to communication skills, critical thinking skills — and the tenacity that you learn in the lab to pursue lines of investigation to their logical conclusion — are also necessary in policy.
Aside from that, you don’t need anything specific, policywise, to get into science policy. What you need to have is a passion for policy, and a commitment to a policy career path.
When I was applying for positions, a lot of places would ask: “What do you plan to do after the fellowship?” And I would say, “I don’t know. I really like policy, but who knows?” And I never got any callbacks. It wasn’t until I started saying, “I’m interested in policy, and I’m going to have a career in policy, I’m committed to it. I would love to have the opportunity to have a fellowship with you to start it off right, but either way I will have a career in policy,” that I was successful. So I think you need to be clearly committed and passionate about what you are doing.
To help you think about what you want to do with your PhD, check out myIDP. It offers skills, interests, and values assessments to help you decide on careers that would be a good fit, then allows you to read up on them and gives you interactive tools to help you reach career goals you set.