8 January 2018
This post was originally posted on AGU’s science policy blog The Bridge
Are you a scientist interested in policy or journalism? Are you considering a career in policy or journalism? Did you sadly miss our event discussing our science policy and science writing fellowships? Well, you’re in luck!
During Fall Meeting, AGU hosted its annual luncheon entitled “How to be a Congressional Science or Mass Media Fellow”. The event provided attendees the opportunity to learn more about the fellowships and hear from current and former fellows. Each year, we have great turn-out and a really engaged Q&A session. However, due to time constraints, we were unable to answer all the great questions. As such, we are answering questions about the fellowships below as part of our post-Fall Meeting series.
1.Does a background in policy/communications make you more competitive applicant for the fellowships? If so, what are some ways to prepare during your PhD?
Applicants do not need to have a policy or communications background for the fellowship.
Specifically, for the CSF fellowship, many applicants who were selected to be fellows did not have policy experience. However, a demonstrated interest in using science for the betterment of society is required. Examples of this have been science outreach, being involved in a student government organization, and teaching science to a variety of audiences.
Similarly, the Mass Media Fellowship (MMF) program is looking for folks who are interested in communicating science more broadly in an accessible and attractive style. Demonstrating an ability to do that via the application can be enough. If you’re looking for ways to hone those skills as a graduate student, think about writing blog posts, submitting articles to online or print publications, or even just summarizing your own or your peers’ works by writing plain-language abstracts or summaries.
2. Are there any policy opportunities during graduate school?
AGU offers several policy-related opportunities for graduate students. To learn more, visit our student opportunities page.
3. Did you do anything during your undergraduate degree that helped with your fellowship?
For both the MMF and CSF programs, communicating complex issues (like your science) to a variety of audiences is invaluable experience. We recommend taking advantage of as many opportunities to communicate science to non-scientists as possible (this is not only good for the fellowships but also just a great way to become a better communicator).
For policy specifically, visit our student opportunities page to learn more about policy opportunities that AGU offers.
4. Who are your mentors during the fellowship? Who do you look to for guidance?
As part of the CSF program, you will have several individuals that you can look to for guidance. First, you will have a liaison with AGU in case you need anything related to your fellowship program. AGU does not influence your placement decision, but is happy to provide any programmatic support you may need as a fellow. You would have access to a program manager at AAAS who will also be available for programmatic support. Once fellows are placed in a congressional office, you will have a mentor who will help you in developing your policy skills. We recommend that you identify who that person would be during the interview process.
Guidance during the MMF fellowship is largely up to the hosting institution/organization. Each host is different; however, all are incredibly supportive and provide fellows with as much or as little guidance and assistance they need to ensure that they have the best fellowship experience possible.
5. What is the acceptance rate for these fellowships?
AGU sponsors one CSF. AGU usually receives about 30 applications in each year for the Congressional Science Fellowship, though this number varies year to year.
The applications for the Mass Media Fellowship are submitted to and managed by AAAS. However, they typically receive about 150, which are spread across several societies. AGU sponsors one Mass Media Fellow per year.
6. How can I encourage my advisor to write me a letter that focuses on my skills rather than my research experience?
We recommend that you send your advisor the description of the fellowship, your CV, and a note that highlights the skills the fellowship is looking for. You can also try to schedule a meeting with your advisor to discuss the fellowship opportunity. Outlining your skills and the mission of the fellowship may help your advisor write a stronger letter that talks about you in a holistic way.
7. What percentage of congressional fellows keep working in policy or related areas versus return to academia afterwards?
Statistics regarding career paths after the Congressional Science Fellowship change each year. In general, about a third of fellows stay in policy (whether that be in a congressional office, in an agency, at a non-profit, or at a think-tank), about a third return to academia, and the remaining fellows find positions in the private sector.
8. What types of work do you do in a congressional fellowship?
Congressional Science Fellows work on a variety of tasks and projects as part of their fellowship experience. Some examples include writing memos for members of Congress and staff, briefing members of Congress on issues in their portfolio, drafting legislation, providing vote recommendations, and writing talking points, questions, and speeches for various occasions. Please note that each fellow’s experience is different.
9. What are some of the other sponsoring societies for congressional fellowships?
AGU sponsors fellows each year. The Geological Society of America and umbrella society the American Geological Institute also sponsor fellows, among other scientific societies. If you are a member of AGU, you are also eligible for the AGI Congressional fellowship. For more information on other societies that sponsor fellows, please see the AAAS website and the organization’s individual site.
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If you have other questions regarding the Congressional Science Fellowship, please contact us at [email protected]. If you have additional questions about the Mass Media Fellowship, please reach out to [email protected].