The AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowship: An Insider Look at Getting Prepared

October 29, 2012

This post was written by guest blogger Pat Sokolove, PhD, Deputy Director, OITE; AAAS Policy Fellow, 2003 – 2005; Health, Education, & Human Services Selection Panel Member, 2006; Chair, 2008 – 2009.

The online application system for AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships is now open; the deadline is 5:00 pm (EST), December 5, 2013.  The AAAS materials are exceptionally clear, but potential applicants always have questions.  Here are some of the questions I hear most often.

Am I a good candidate?  AAAS selection panels adhere carefully to the published evaluation criteria.  That means that your science counts most (40 points)!  You need to demonstrate a credible publication record for a scientist at your career stage.  As a postdoc you don’t need ten Science papers, but you will need at least a handful of peer-reviewed publications.  Good science is not enough, however.  You will also be judged on your leadership, your problem-solving abilities, your communication skills, and your commitment to/interest in policy (15 points each for a total of 60).  Your CV or letters must provide convincing evidence that you have it all.

I am interested in applying to this program in the future.   What can I do to make myself a good candidate?  In addition to ensuring that your science is top-notch, take the time to immerse yourself in policy.   Read all the articles that include a science policy component in a good newspaper. Read broadly.  Don’t restrict yourself to the areas with which you are already familiar.  You should be just as conversant with the importance of maternal-child health in developing countries as with climate change or the toxic effects of gold mining in rural Nigeria.  Find an opportunity to take an active policy role: volunteer with an advocacy group, write and submit opinion pieces, contribute to exhibit development at a museum or to a free clinic in a neighborhood near you, participate in the NIH Science Policy Journal Club, or sign up for a diversity course.  This will demonstrate your interest in science policy, and develope your leadership and communication skills.

What is the interview like? The 30 minute interviews for a particular fellowship area are scheduled back-to-back on two sequential days, and selections are made at the end of the second day.  Except for the Congressional Fellowships, there is no limit to the number of finalists the committees can select.  The aim is bring in candidates that best meet the goals of the program.

At the beginning of the interview, the applicant presents a briefing memo he/she prepared in advance (5 minutes) and answers questions on the memo’s contents (5 minutes).  The six to ten panelists then ask policy-related questions for the remaining 20 minutes.   They are looking for evidence of outstanding communication skills, a wide-ranging interest in policy issues, and a realistic understanding of the constraints under which policy makers operate, both fiscal and temporal.  A typical question might be, “It’s a rainy night and you find yourself in a cab with the President’s science advisor.  What would you talk about if you had only 5 minutes?”

If the point of the fellowships is to bring good science to government, why does the NIH participate in this program? PhD scientists are a dime a dozen at NIH.  In fact, the aim of the program is two-fold: providing scientific input to inform policy decisions and exposing the fellows to how policy works. Fellows in the Congressional or Diplomacy areas may well be the scientist in their offices.  They are responsible for bringing the policy makers up to speed on whatever scientific issue arises, be it stem-cell transplants or wind energy, while at the same time engaging directly in policy making.  In contrast, the policy component will dominate the fellowship experience at the NIH or NSF.  The AAAS Fellowship Program provides a pool of “vetted” individuals with an interest in policy.  NIH offices tend to use their fellows to do policy work while evaluating them for more permanent employment.

The best way to increase your chances of successfully applying for a Science and Technology Fellowship through AAAS is to make sure you read and follow the application instructions.  All the instructions, selection criteria and FAQs can be found at http://fellowships.aaas.org/  We strongly encourage those interested in applying to read all the information on this page and tailor your application accordingly.


Preparing to Negotiate Non-Academic Job Offers

October 22, 2012

In our last blog post we talked about negotiating for an academic job search.  This week, we will highlight tips for negotiating any non-faculty position.  Like last week, this blog post is intended to give you an overview of how to prepare for negotiations.  For more in-depth information on negotiating for non-academic job offers, view our video here.

Salary: Salary is probably the first thing on everyone’s mind when they think about negotiations.  The biggest question you have is “are they paying me fairly?”  For the most part, organizations are not trying to low-ball you.  It doesn’t make sense to pay you so far under market value, that you leave the organization faster.  That being said, they are looking to get you for the lowest amount of money they can. To make sure you feel like you are getting what you are worth you should connect with your network in similar jobs and organizations to see what salary you should be getting.  Ask these people, “I am looking at a job at organization X.  The position is described like this (insert a brief description here).  I think the salary should be $A-$B.  Do you think that is reasonable?”

Another resource for salary information is salary comparison sites:  Glassdoor.com, monster.com, and salarywizard.com are all good sites.  Be cautious though, sometimes the information is not as updated as you would like.  These sites are good places to start, but you need more information.  Understanding the cost of living changes in different areas of the country is also important.  $80K in the DC area is a lot different than $80 in Topeka.

You should always try to ask for additional salary, but be prepared to give them reasons on why you deserve more.  You may bring a particular skill set, be losing money by taking this position, or just have an understanding based on your salary research that the number they offered is too low.  They may say no to your request, but they can’t say yes if you don’t ask.

Benefits: Sometimes you can negotiate other benefits like time off.  The biggest thing here is to understand what you are worth or what you would be losing that you current employer gives you.  For example, if in your last job you had 15 days off (including some federal holidays), but the new jobs offers you 12 days.  This is now a negotiable item, either to add more days or to add more salary for the days you missed.  Also, if you have religious holidays that you need, this is the time to ask.  Industry jobs have other benefits that are negotiable such as bonuses, profit sharing and stock options. You may be able to get education payments if you need additional training.  Relocation costs are sometimes included, and if they are not you can try to negotiate them.  Moving cost span from a flat payment to full help with finding a house/childcare/packing services.

Typical non-negotiable benefits include health care benefits, other insurance benefits, flexible benefits and retirement packages.

Spousal/Partner hires: Your negotiation can also include help for a position for your other half.  We have seen this work, and not work depending on the organization.  Have a clear idea of what your partner wants to do, the types of jobs that they would like, a list of organizations that their skill sets fit into, and a current CV/resume in order to help your new employer to make the best connections.

Salary review: A good thing to do is to work out a plan that your salary will be looked at in 6 months to a year in order to see if your performance warrants a salary increase.  We know someone who did this and after six months got a $20, 000 raise.

The original job offer will likely be by phone or email, as will most of your negotiations.  Get the final deal in writing!  Nothing is final until it is written down and signed by all parties.


Preparing to Negotiate an Academic Job Offer

October 9, 2012

If you have been following our Calendar for Career Success, October is the month to prepare yourself to negotiate a job offer.  Because the preparation for negotiating an academic position versus a non-academic position is so divergent, we are going to cover them in separate blog posts.  This week, we will give a brief overview of how to prepare for negotiating academic job offerings.  For more in-depth information, watch the videocast or view the slides from the latest OITE workshop on negotiating an academic job offer.

As you prepare to interview for academic jobs, it is important that you are preparing to negotiate an offer for those positions as well.  Often times the initial negotiation occurs verbally during or shortly after your interview(s).  You may be asked to provide information regarding your needs before the institution is willing to make you an offer.  Thus, it is important that you do your homework and be prepared to know what is reasonable.

Research what a typical offer looks like.   On-line databases can be a good place to start, but you need “real-world” data as well.  Many state universities publish salaries of current faculty.  Also, the Association of American Medical Colleges salary surveys are great resources for knowing your worth.   For those at the NIH, the OITE has the AAMC book that we welcome you to come in and use.  If you are outside the NIH, check to see if your institution has an online subscription to the AAMC web site.  Then you will need to determine your three salary numbers:  Ideal, acceptable and unacceptable.

Understand all the components of an offers. Is your salary is for a 9-month of 12-month appointment? Most 9-month salaries are paid over 12 months, but the duties associated with that salary (e.g. teaching), might only be for 9 months of the year.  You will want to ask if there are realistic ways to find support for the summer months to supplement that salary?  Is it a base salary with the possibility of bonuses?  Will the salary be fully supported by the university?  If not, how much will you be expected to provide from grants and when?  What about insurance (health, life, disability, etc.), retirement plans, sick days, vacations, holidays?  Almost all Universities have a standard benefits package, but you will want to know the details of that package to know if you will need supplement it on your own if it does not meet your needs. Read the rest of this entry »


Spotlight on Safety: New Hands-on Course Aims to Reduce Lab Accidents

October 2, 2012

Post written by guest blogger Diana Masselle from the NIH Division of Occupational Health and Safety

Science can be a dangerous job, no matter where you work.  At the NIH alone, there are hundreds of preventable injuries each year and researchers have the most injuries.  I wanted to lower the rate of research-related injuries so I developed a hands-on lab safety course, “Lab Safety Refresher- LIVE.” (If you can come up with an acronym for “LIVE”- leave it in the comment section and we will announce the best in a later post).  Many researchers have the attitude that “it won’t happen to me”.  Regardless of where you work or how good of a researcher you are it can and possibly will happen to you.  You can greatly reduce your risk of injury or lab acquired infection by being aware of the hazards around you. The Lab Safety Refresher-LIVE course will help you to recognize hazards in your workplace and the behaviors that can lead you towards an accident.  NIH trainees can sign up for the course at: https://www.safetytraining.nih.gov. (For NIH Fellows Only)

If you are a trainee here at the NIH, please join me for a class either next week or in the near future.  If you are at another institution, touch base with your lab safety specialist about stay up to date with your safety training.  If you like the idea of the hands-on lab safety course, work with your safety department on developing the course at your institution.  It is a great way to become a safety expert and gain valuable experience creating curriculum

There are a few things that you should know about safety training.  First, you are required to take it by law.  Postbacs, grad students, postdocs, clinical fellows, etc all fall under OSHA regulations, regardless of what research institution you work for.  Therefore, there are trainings that your employer is required to provide to you on an annual basis; including, but not limited to, hazard communications, chemical hygiene and bloodborne pathogens training.  Many people ask why they need to take bloodborne pathogen training.  If you work with human blood or body fluids, non-human primate blood, bacteria and most viruses, you must take bloodborne pathogens training annually.  At the NIH we provide training to meet these requirements through “Laboratory Safety at the NIH” and “Working Safely with HIV and Other Bloodborne Pathogens for Non-Hospital Personnel.”  Your institution may provide this training in a different format.  Another component of your training needs to be provided by your direct supervisor and must include documented procedure specific safety training.

As a research trainee, you are in a very unique position where you are learning constantly.  Consider safety to be another skill you need to learn and perfect.  Regardless of what your career goals are, being safe in the workplace is an important skill to have.