How is policy created and why is it important for researchers to be involved?

capitol buildingIt is important for researchers from all disciplines to become aware how policy is made and to influence decisions that affect society and the world. Economic development, research funding for knowledge generation, sustainability, and technological advances all depend on research informing policymakers and policies that affect research.

As scientific and technological discoveries continue to change our world and society at a rapid pace, it has become imperative that our policymaking approach also be informed by science. From energy policy to climate change, from health care to bioterrorism, from science education to technology innovation, it has become critical to also have professional scientists and engineers actively engaged in the policymaking process. However, a fundamental issue facing today's government is the fact that too few researchers, especially scientists, have experience with the inner workings of public policymaking and too few policymakers have significant science or engineering knowledge. This large gap between the two fields needs to be bridged if we are to have a society where scholarly research and science influence the course we take.

Whether your research is on health disparities, sustainability, biomedical engineering, family and consumer policy, environmental conservation, personalized medicine, or evolutionary biology, policy affects you and your research outcomes. The video, "The Startling Conclusion about Problems in Federal Science Policy: It's Our Fault" features Former Congressional Fellow and Optics Society of America member Chris Schaffer of Cornell University.

Public Policy Databases (Cornell community access only)

Exposure for Experience

Look over some of the core qualifications and competencies of executive leaders that you can aspire to and build experiences in: leading change, leading people, results driven, business acumen, building coalitions. 

Get involved in science advocacy and expose yourself to how the government works.

Many professional societies offer one year experiences in Washington to inform firsthand the nation's science policy. Follow them to learn about deadlines and application requirements. Here are but a few examples of more concise experiences for which Careers Beyond Academia/BEST has sponsored individuals interested in policy careers to attend. See the gradcareeers.cornell.edu spotlights for participant impressions. If you are a PhD student or postdoc at Cornell, you are eligible to apply for funding to attend.

  • AIBS Public Policy: The Congressional Visits Day is held each spring. Participants receive communications and advocacy training. See also their Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits summer/fall. Participating scientists either meet with their elected officials at the local district office or may invite them to visit their research facility.
  • AIMBE Public Policy Institute for Rising Leaders: The American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE) 2-day training is designed to educate grad students, postdocs, and fellows in medical and biological engineering about the policy landscape that surrounds health and regulatory science.  Attendees learn from some of Washington's top insiders about the role of policy in shaping the scientific enterprise. Top government officials, industry representatives, and senior leaders at the FDA lead discussions on topics such as 'science, technology, healthcare and the courts' and 'the role of critical NGO stakeholders in shaping policy'. Participants engage with experts in science and health policy through keynote talks and panel presentations. They have the opportunity to network with AIMBE's FDA Scholars, as well as Fellows from the FDA.
  • ASBMB Capitol Hill Day: The Public Affairs Advisory Committee sponsors an annual Hill Day, during which students and postdocs from around the country come to Washington D.C. to meet with their congressional representatives. Participants partake in a "Policy 101" training session before breaking into small groups for a full day of congressional meetings. More ASBMB awards, grants and fellowships
  • AMS Congressional Visits, Summer Colloquium: Learn about the many opportunities available through the American Meteorological Society
  • Catalyzing Advocacy for Science and Engineering (CASE): Takes place in April at AAAS Headquarters, Washington, D.C.. A coalition of scientific and engineering societies, universities, and academic organizations has created an exciting opportunity for participants in STEM disciplines to learn about science policy and advocacy. Students are selected by their institution to participate in the workshop and spend a few days learning about the structure and organization of Congress, the federal budget and appropriations process, and tools for effective science communication and civic engagement. Cornell assists with scheduling visits to Capitol Hill, and usually accompany participants during those visits. Read the reactions from the students who participated in the inaugural event in this AAAS story. 
  • Women in Stem Policy Seminar: An annual seminar organized by the Public Leadership Education Network (PLEN) to prepare women for leadership in the public policy arena.
  • The National Science Policy Network (NSPN) might be a great way to increase your connections with those in the filed.

The need for rigorously trained policy-makers

Professional societies, international organizations, charities, lobby groups, government bodies, think tanks and non-governmental organizations all need specialists working on policy.

Internships can help you get your foot in the door to a career in policy

The Convergence Center for Policy Resolution focuses on solving social and policy challenges.

Opportunities to participate in policymaking

Policy Fellowships and Internships

Use your research expertise to help inform policy-makers. Help distill academic research into policy-relevant information. Shape what your role is as a scientist/engineer or humanist in the political world. Learn by doing, not by watching, how the government works, the major issues relating to your work, and how policy is made.

American Association for the Advancement of Science Science & Technology Policy Fellowship
These competitive AAAS Fellowships are opportunities for professional development and public service. Fellows engage their knowledge and analytical skills while learning first-hand about policymaking and implementation at the federal level. The aim is to foster scientifically informed, evidence-based policy and practice by involving scientists and engineers from a broad range of disciplines, backgrounds and career stages, and to build leadership for a strong S&T enterprise that benefits all people.

California Science & Technology Policy Fellowship (CCST)
Offered by the California Council on Science and Technology (CCST), these fellowships place professional scientists and engineers in the California State Legislature for one-year appointments. Ideal for qualified applicants who are interested in improving the interface between science and legislative decision-making and who want to learn the public policy decision-making process.

Congressional Science Policy Fellowship (American Geophysical Union)
The Fellowship program enables more effective use in government of scientific knowledge and provides a unique experience to scientists seeking careers involving public use of technical information by placing highly qualified, accomplished scientists, engineers, and other professionals in the offices of either an individual Member of Congress or on a committee for a one-year assignment. The AGU Fellow will have the opportunity to make significant contributions to public policy during their time working with Congress. Past Fellows have been directly involved in water policy, climate research, energy conservation, and a range of other issues that are of high priority to society.

David A. Winston Health Policy Fellowship – Association of University Programs in Health Administration
The objective of this fellowship is to provide a unique opportunity to learn about the political system through direct exposure to public and private sector roles in health policy development. The Fellowship embodies Mr. Winston’s commitment to the public/private partnership necessary for a high quality, market oriented health care system. Sponsored by the David A. Winston Health Policy Fellowship Board of Trustees, it is administered in collaboration with the Association of University Programs in Health Administration (AUPHA).

FDA Commissioner’s Fellowship Program
The FDA offers a two-year Fellowship Program, which provides an opportunity for health professionals and scientists to receive training and experience at the FDA where they receive regulatory science training and the chance to conduct cutting edge research on targeted scientific, policy, or regulatory issues under the mentorship of an FDA senior scientist. Fellows will train at FDA's White Oak campus in Silver Spring, MD or at other FDA facilities. Salaries are extremely competitive, and travel funds are available to attend scientific meetings.

Gulf Research Program Science Policy Fellowships (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine)
For early-career scientists to hone thier sills by putting them to practice for the benefit of Gulf Coast communities and ecosystems.  Fellows gain first-hand policymaking experience as they spend a year on the staff of federal or state environmental, natural resource, oil, and gas, or public health agencies in the Gulf of Mexico region.

Health and Aging Policy Fellowship
The nine-to-12-month program offers fellows the opportunity to participate in a residential track or a non-residential track. The residential track allows fellows to participate in the policymaking process on either the Federal or state level as legislative assistants in Congress, professional staff members in executive agencies or policy organizations. The non-residential track allows fellows to work on a policy project and brief placement(s) throughout the year at relevant sites. Core program components focused on career development and professional enrichment are provided for fellows in both tracks. Fellows also have the opportunity to apply for second-year funding to continue components of their fellowship experience/project either at their placement sites, at the state/local levels, or with non-governmental organizations.

Hellman Fellowship & Morton L. Mandel Presidential Fellowship (American Academy of Arts & Sciences)
The Hellman Fellowship in Science and Technology Policy is intended for early-career professionals with training in science or engineering who are interested in transitioning to a career in public policy and administration. While in residence, the Hellman Fellows work with senior scientists and policy experts on critical national and international policy issues related to science, engineering, and technology.

Jacobs Science Writers Fellowship (Jacobs Foundation)
A five day program in Zurich, Switzerland to connect science, society or health policy journalists in the field of child and youth development to Swiss research institutions to raise public awareness of research in these areas and drive societal change.

John Bahcall Public Policy Fellowship (American Astronomical Society)
For early career astronomers to gain experience in the world of science policy. A 1-year postdoctoral appointment, renewable for a second year.

John A Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship (NOAA Sea Grant)
For graduate students interested in ocean, coastal and Great Lakes resources and in the national policy decisions affecting those resources. Matched with hosts in the legislative and executive branch in Washington, D.C.. See also the Alaska Sea Grant State Fellowship Program.

Potomac Institute for Policy Studies (PIPS)  Note: these are unpaid internships. Are you interested in making a difference?  Have you always wanted to learn how policy is made and shaped at the highest levels of government?  Do you have a burning curiosity about the latest developments in cyber security, neuroscience, counterterrorism technology, and future trends that affect security and society?  The PIPS is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit, nonpartisan science & technology policy research institute in Arlington, Virginia that offers an opportunity to assist with research, writing, planning, and organizational activities that support the Institute's mission to provide a forum for the free exchange of ideas for the purpose of informing public policy.

Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF STEM)
The PMF Program is a flagship leadership development program at the entry level for advanced degree candidates. Created more than three decades ago by Executive Order, in 2012 President Obama directed Federal agencies to close the skills gap for mission critical occupations, including science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. Beginning in 2014, the PMF Program piloted a STEM track to address this skills gap and identify and train future STEM leaders for the Federal Government. Upon completion of the PMF STEM track, Fellows will play key roles in addressing important national challenges, including: Managing research and development programs; Performing world class, cutting edge science and engineering research and development; Developing technically-informed policies and regulations; Responding to natural and man-made disasters; Leading the federal science and technology enterprise.

RAND Summer Associate Program
A unique opportunity for graduate students to apply their research skills to the leading topics facing our nation, both domestically and internationally, and to learn how it affects the policy making process. Students work at RAND for a 12-week period during the summer, receive a stipend, and are mentored by a senior research staff member. For outstanding graduate students in the areas of Public Policy, Health Policy, Public Health, Health Services Research, Education Policy, Public Administration, National Security Policy, Engineering & Public Policy.

Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Fellowships Program
This program provides the nation’s most comprehensive experience at the nexus of health science, policy, and politics in Washington, DC. An outstanding opportunity for exceptional mid-career health professionals and behavioral and social scientists with an interest in health and health care policy. Fellows experience and participate in the policy process at the federal level and use that leadership experience to improve health, health care, and health policy.

Science & Technology Policy Graduate Fellowship Program (Policy and Global Affairs Division of the National Academies)
The Christine Mirzayan Science & Technology Policy Graduate Fellowship Program is designed to engage its Fellows in the analytical process that informs U.S. science and technology policy. Fellows develop basic skills essential to working or participating in science policy at the federal, state, or local levels. Graduate students and postdoctoral scholars and those who have completed graduate studies or postdoctoral research in any social/behavioral science, medical/health discipline, physical or biological science, any field of engineering, law/business/public administration, or any relevant interdisciplinary field within the last five years are eligible to apply.

Science Technology and Public Policy (STPP)
The Belfer Center, Kennedy School of Government offers fellowships for predoctoral and postdoctoral researchers for one year, with a possibility for renewal, in the stimulating environment of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Social Science Research Council – Abe Fellowship Program
The Abe Fellowship Program encourages international multidisciplinary research on topics of pressing global concern. The program fosters the development of a new generation of researchers interested in policy-relevant topics and willing to become key members of a bilateral and global research network. In partnership with the SSRC, the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership (CGP) established the Abe Fellowship Program as its flagship program in 1991.

Society for Research in Child Development Policy Fellowship
Both Congressional and Executive Branch Fellowships provide exciting opportunities for researchers to come to Washington, DC and use developmental science outside of the academic setting to inform public policy. Open to doctoral scientists from any discipline relevant to child development; both early and mid-career professionals are encouraged to apply. Goals: (1) to contribute to the effective use of scientific knowledge about child development in the formation of public policy ; (2) to educate the scientific community about the development of public policy; and (3) to establish a more effective liaison between developmental scientists and the Federal policy-making mechanisms.

White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) have offered unpaid internships in the past.

More internship and fellowships are listed here; see a more complete list of Policy Fellowships for Scientists & Engineers

Policymaking Newsfeeds

Keep abreast of key issues being discussed that keep policymakers up at night. Become part of the conversation.

Political News

The Hill:  keep track of politics (elections, news) and policy (energy, telecom, healthcare…)

Roll Call: Capitol Hill and DC news

Politico: political news about campaigns, Congress, lobbyists and issues

Government Agencies & Non-Profits

NIH News: timely news on health, biomedical discoveries and policy

NSF News: news on various scientific fields, education, and societal implications

Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP): reports on science regulation and initiatives from the White House

Council of Graduate Schools Public Policy & Advocacy

Professional Societies & Publishers

AAAS Policy Updates: a must for timely policy news. Consider other categories too for science updates

Nature News: another must for policy news and science breakthroughs, they also have a brief you can sign up for opinion and analysis

American Society of Agronomy: policy issues related to environmental and agricultural sciences

Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) Government Affairs and Advocacy

National Science Policy Network

Engaging Scientists and Engineers in Policy Coalition (ESEP)

Journal of Science Policy & Governance (LinkedIn group)- JSPG articles contribute nuanced, bold, and innovative solutions to address the widest range of problems, threats, and opportunities at the intersection of science, technology, innovation, public policy and governance.

See additional professional societies on other tabs in this LibGuide

Additional Resources

ASBMB Policy Blotter: policy blog and news related to biochemistry and molecular biology

The Innovation Files: a blog on government, technology, industry and innovation by the ITIF (Information Technology & Innovation Foundation)

The Pew Charitable Trusts: Check out their news section and their research and analysis section

Green Tech Media (now Wood Mackenzie): news and opinion on energy industry and policy. Find out about state-level energy policy news that wouldn’t make a splash in big media outlets

Clubs and Courses (for the Cornell community)

Advancing Science And Policy (ASAP) Grad Student Organization

ASAP was co-founded by Chelsea Gregg, and has been run by Careers Beyond Academia/BEST participants ever since. Read the ASAP blog here. This group is dedicated to training researchers and graduate students to share the value and significance of their work with policy makers. Members develop skills and professional networks through regular workshops, faculty chats, and invited speakers. Members learn to communicate with policy makers and the general public about the role of scientific input in advancing policy and society. ASAP supports writing initiatives, organizes trips to Washington D.C. or Albany, meets with policy makers, and advocates for issues of interest. Contact ASAP.

Science Policy Hands-on Courses

BME 4440: Science Policy Bootcamp: From Concept to Conclusion 3cr. Developed by Chris Schaffer (then co-Principal Investigator of the NIH BEST grant) and postdoctoral scholar Catharine Young with the help of an Engaged Cornell Faculty Fellowship

NTRES 4300: Environmental Policy Processes 3cr. Barbara Bedford & Clifford Kraft (Limited to 20. Application in the fall with November meeting dates, a long week in January in Washington, D.C. and spring meeting times)

Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability

Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability offers fellowship funding, connections, and faculty experts who contribute information and analysis without political agenda to some of today’s most salient topics.Their many guest speakers provide broad and responsible coverage of the scientific debates behind the political debates. Focus areas include reducing climate risk, accelerating energy transitions, increasing food security and advancing one health.

Policy Research Links

Careers Beyond Academia Mentors for Policy-related careers

Reaching out to people for informational interviews can help you decide where you want to go after your PhD or postdoctoral training at Cornell. Contact us at gradcareers@cornell.edu for an introduction, or feel free to reach out to them directly! Many are Cornell alumni, and all are eager to help give advice. Most have either spoken at or participated in our programming over the years and are aware and supportive of helping doctoral students and postdoctoral scholars learn more about policy careers and skills needed for success in this sector. Read this Cornell Chronicle article Any Person...Any Career...Greater Impact on how two alumni found their path to science policy.

  • Mark Bayer, Bayer Strategic
  • Holly Falk-Krzesinski, Vice President, Research Intelligence, Global Strategic Networks at Elsevier
  • Cristina Fernandez-Baca PhD'18, US Department of State AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow
  • Portia Flowers, Science Policy Analyst at the National Science Foundation
  • Bill Foster, Physicist and Congressman, IL
  • Michal Freedhoff, Minority Director of Oversight & Investigations, U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
  • Abby Goldman PhD'18, IDA Science Technology Policy
  • Dan Gordon, Research Scientist at the New York State Department of Health
  • Chelsea Gregg PhD'16 Medtronic, Principal Research and Development Engineer, former AIMBE FDA Scholar
  • Don Hartill, Mayor of Lansing, NY and Emeritus Professor of Physics at Cornell
  • Rush Holt, CEO of AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science)
  • Kristen Hook PhD'16, AAAS  Legislative Science & Technology Policy Fellow sponsored by the American Statistical Association
  • Terrance Horner, Senior Science Analyst at U.S. Government Accountability Office
  • Stephen Johnson, Vice President Emeritus, Federal and Community Relations, Cornell University
  • Adna Karabegovic, Project Coordinator, Research Tools And Economics Team, World Resources Institute
  • Judy Keen, Oncology Medical Training Leader, AstraZeneca; Director of Scientific Affairs, American Society for Radiation Oncology
  • Charles Kruzansky, Assistant Vice President, Office of State Government Relations, Cornell University
  • Charlotte Levy PhD'19 DOE AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow, former Vice-President of ASAP
  • Joseph Long, National Science Policy Network Sci-Pol Scholars in Residence internship program
  • Anne Maglia, Associate Vice Chancellor-Research Compliance, UMass Lowell, former Science Advisor, NSF
  • Joel Malina, Vice President University Relations at Cornell University
  • Rachel Malloy, Director, Bureau of Sexual Health and Epidemiology, AIDS Institute, New York State Dept. of Health (NYSDOH)
  • Sarah Mandell, Director of Public Policy & Strategic Partnerships, American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE)
  • Kevin McDermott, PhD’19 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology Policy Fellowship (STPF) at the Department of State
  • Dianne L. Miller, Senior Director, Federal Government Relations at Cornell University
  • Fanuel Muindi, Assistant Director of Graduate Studies at Harvard University and Co-Founder of STEM Advocacy
  • Marika Nell PhD'20 California Council on Science & Technology (CCST) Policy Fellow
  • Zoe Nelson, Associate Director, Office of State Government Relations, Cornell University
  • Julie (Hammons) Nevins PhD'15 Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion
  • Jimmy O'Dea, Union of Concerned Scientists, former AAAS Congressional Science Policy Fellow
  • Abraham Parker, Staff Scientist at Environmental Management Support, Inc.
  • Helen Petach, Senior MCH Science Advisor, USAID
  • Kris Poduska, Director, Science Policy with the Canadian Association of Physicists, Professor of Physics and Physical Oceanography
  • Joe Regenstein, Professor of Food Science and Director of Cornell Kosher and Halal Food Initiative
  • Cynthia Robinson, President, Robertson Fdn. for Government, formerly at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
  • Andrew Ruttinger PhD'21 Policy Analyst, Natural Resources Canada
  • Andy Sanchez, Journal of Science Policy and Governance (JSPG) Assistant Editor-in-Chief, President ASAP
  • Chris Schaffer, Associate Professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering, Cornell University
  • Jeff Sharp, Media Strategist and Entrepreneur at Manitou Media
  • Catherine Spirito, PhD'17 Asst. Clinical Professor, Univ. MD
  • Scott Steele, FDA Office of Medical Policy Initiatives
  • Gary Stewart, Associate Vice President for Community Relations at Cornell 
  • Julie Suarez, Associate Dean of Governmental and Community Relations in CALS at Cornell
  • James Tierney, Assistant Commissioner of Water Resources at the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation
  • Sri Vedachalam, Water Policy Specialist
  • Liz Wayne PhD'15 shares how to get involved in policy work in her When Science Speaks video
  • Marissa Weiss, Program Coordinator for the Harvard Forest Science Policy Exchange, AAAS Mass Media Fellow, Mirzayan Fellow
  • Carrie Wolinetz, Associate Director for Science Policy, Director of the Office of Science Policy (OSP) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH)
  • Jodi Yellin, Science Policy at AAMC (Assoc. of American Medical Colleges)
  • Catharine (Clark) Young, Co-Founder Blueprint International, TED Fellow & Senior Science and Innovation Policy Advisor, Head of DC Team at British Embassy

We are happy to help you identify additional mentors in your field. Make an appointment today!