AAAS Fellowships

Karen Saxe kicks us off for this late-afternoon session talking about many AMS-sponsored fellowships in Washington, D.C.  The first one is the Congressional Fellowship, where AMS chooses exactly 1 math Ph.D. per year to spend a year on the staff of a Congress member.

 

The last on her list was the Science and Technology Policy Fellowship, which will have three folks doing data science for a year in the US.  She mentioned the Mass Media Fellowship and the Catalyzing Advocacy in Science and Engineering Workshop as well.

Me (I did the AAAS MMF sponsored by AMS at the Raleigh News & Observer last summer) and Ben Thompson (Voice of America) raised our hands that we  did the 10 week summer program and loved it.  Me and Ben both talked about how we both loved it, and how we also ended up writing for the JMM Blog.

I loved the Mass Media Fellowship and am happy to talk to people about it! Reach me at yenergy @ gmail or tweet me @yenergy.

The CASE workshop is for advanced undergraduate and graduate students and is just 3.5 days or so to introduce students to the federal policy-making processes. One undergraduate who had done CASE was in the audience.

Jennifer Pearl of AAAS then talked about the Congressional Fellowship.  These September-August fellowships have been going for 45 years.  There’s about 35 fellows in Congress, and then there are also scientists and engineers in the executive office.  There’s 200-some fellows in total.

This year the Sloan Foundation decided to fund three more Ph.D. mathematical scientists to head to the D.C. for a yearlong felllowship within the larger Science & Technology Policy Fellowship.

Some folks who did the congressional fellowship ended up going on to do executive branch fellowships.

We’re really thrilled to have such a robust representation of mathematicians and we could really use more. Mathematicians get a lot of interviews and agencies are very interested in them.

Jennifer Pearl now works for AAAS, so that quote she had seems right on the money.  People love it when I say I have a Ph.D. in math!

Jennifer also said people tend to stay in policy- she said about 45% of Congressional fellows find a way to work for the federal government or a think tank etc. after their fellowship is over.  She said many of the executive fellows can extend their fellowship to two years, which sometimes helps with the career changes.

Next James Ricci, a tenure-track professor at a small liberal arts school, told us about his current AMS Congressional fellowship, where he’s working for a year in the office of Senator Amy Klobuchar during a one-year sabbatical.  He said the two-week orientations is great, and meeting the network of 33-35 congressional fellows along with all the other fellows is another great opportunity.

The network you build from this fellowship is tremendous. There are former fellows all over D.C.

After the two week orientation period, James explained the placement period where the fellow, AAAS, AMS, and the Senate/house/committee/Republican/Democrat go through an interview process. He was pleasingly tongue-in-cheek about how you have a lot of leeway in what you want to do with your year.

I was ‘shocked’ to find they weren’t doing a lot of abstract number theory in Congress nowadays.

Next Karen had us go around the room introducing ourselves, why were at the panel, and any questions we wanted to ask.  One audience member asked about how much control you have over where you’ll go.

The question of “Will I have to work on something that I don’t agree with?” is one that comes up with every job in the government.

Jennifer Pearl explained. She said for the AAAS Congressional Fellowship, they often have 150 applications and accept two of them for slots, and encouraged us to apply for all of the fellowships.

Two audience members referred to participating in the AWM Hill visit on Tuesday and how that stoked their curiosity in the fellowships, and you can read Beth’s blog posts on that on this very blog.

Karen Saxe said that after she did the Congressional fellowship, she went back to teaching for a few years and that the fellowship truly informed her teaching and how she ended up telling students on the value of a math or science degree for a government job.

Two audience members discussed taking a year off from their tenured careers, and how they now run a consulting government business and continued into academia.

A state senator in Wyoming is a AAAS fellow alum. Other alums have started nonprofits to help scientists run for office, like Engineers and Scientists Acting Locally (which I, Yen, edited for awhile and include here without anyone on the panel mentioning it.)

One audience member asked about deferment.  It’s a known thing that academic jobs can often defer for a year if you get one of these cool fellowships.

Another audience member asked for things that you can do to prepare for the fellowship application.

Jennifer said the majority of the placements are executive placements.

You don’t need a ton of science policy experience, you don’t need to have volunteered for a campaign… you need to articulate why this is important to you and why you want to do it.

She suggested that you do a little bit of research about science policy and Washington, and it’s good but not necessary to attend the CASE workshop.  An alumnus recommended developing communication skills, reading up on the news and understanding the issues that resonate with you so you can talk about them in an interview or on the application.

Karen stressed that you should try to develop your expository writing skills.  Jennifer warned about writing applications that are too narrow, vs. ones that show curiosity and open-mindedness.

You need to show real intellectual curiosity and the open-mindedness to what’s possible.

An alumnus suggested that you not come in with too strong an agenda.  Gossip and D.C. talking lets people know which congressional office is good for working in, and you can also switch offices if that’s a problem.

Another alum talked about how lively it is to see how the AMS interacts with D.C. and advocacy work, and how “it’s completely changed” her relationship with the AMS.

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