Aaas Policy Fellowship Application Essay

This is the second article in a three-part series exploring how to successfully apply for science policy fellowships. Part one described the different types of fellowship programs, while part three will cover how to seal the deal with a great interview. The series focuses on fellowships for recent biological Ph.D. graduates, although the recommendations are likely relevant for others.

Fellowship application materials tend to be rather similar. The standard application packet includes a resume, reference letters and a statement. Some fellowships ask for additional materials such as a list of volunteer experiences or a writing sample. To make it to the next stage of the selection process—the interview—you will need to convince the evaluators of your interest in science policy and your qualifications through these three documents.

The most important thing to keep in mind when developing your packet is the fellowship’s evaluation criteria. Most fellowships (AAAS is one exception) put little emphasis on your scientific credentials, so do not use too much space discussing these. Most desire strong communication skills and a demonstrated interest in science policy. Scientists have experiences—in and outside the lab—that are relevant to policy. Teaching a course gives you communication skills; mentoring a student teaches you leadership. Talking to past fellows will also give you an idea of the traits evaluators seek. Regardless of what these are, you should craft your entire packet around these qualifications and demonstrate how you meet or exceed them.

Resume. Your resume is not your standard science CV and should be curated to include only relevant information. If you are finishing graduate school, there should be minimal information from college. There are many acceptable formats for a resume, and the web is a great resource. However, if you have access to a career counselor, I would recommend seeking their help with your resume. I based my resume off my counselor’s advice, and it included eight sections:

  • Summary of qualifications – a brief statement (3-4 lines) summarizing your background.
  • Highlights – bullet points (3-5) listing your major accomplishments.
  • Education – This should include all of your degrees, including the dates earned, institutions and their locations and, for a Ph.D., the thesis title and advisor’s name.
  • Professional Experience – Calling this section “professional experience” allows you to include unpaid activities that contributed to your qualifications. In addition to the basics (title, organization, dates worked), you should include enough information so the evaluator can understand the position and your major accomplishments.
  • Honors and Awards
  • Publications
  • Abstracts – can be easily cut if resume exceeds the fellowship’s page limit.
  • Memberships

Reference letters. Most fellowships require two or three letters of reference. A 15-minute conversation with your references will go a long way in helping them portray you favorably to a science policy fellowship selection committee. While it is fine for letters to include information about your scientific credentials, references must speak to your interest in policy and your qualifications for the fellowship. When you ask your references to write for you, give them your new resume and the fellowship’s evaluation criteria. It is also advisable to provide them with writing points about your qualifications.

Statement. Surprise! The statement is the most important part of your application packet and should emphasize how you meet the evaluation criteria. Most applications give you 1,000 words to answer the following questions:

  • Why are you applying for this particular program?
  • What are your career goals, and how will this fellowship support these goals?
  • What specific policy issues interest you?
  • What do you hope to accomplish as a fellow?
  • What are your qualifications for this program?

The basic writing rules still apply here. Follow the directions exactly. Make sure your entire statement is error-free. Fellowships are competitive, and grammar and punctuation mistakes make you seem careless. You should answer all of the questions and give specific examples to reinforce your claims.

Beyond the basics, your statement should indicate an understanding of science policy. While you may have no formal policy experience, you can do research and talk to science policy professionals to better appreciate the field. I cannot overstate how important this research is. As I noted in the first part of this series, determining why you want to pursue a career in science policy is imperative. Combine this information into a persuasive statement that answers the application questions.

Once your application materials are prepared, you should convert everything to a PDF and carefully check a printed copy for errors. Did you follow all the instructions? Do not be the person who submits a PDF with the tracked changes evident. Next, go back to the evaluation criteria and statement questions. Have you explicitly answered all the questions and given evidence of meeting the evaluation criteria? Make your answers obvious. Finally, if you are submitting to an e-mail address, ask for a reply to ensure they received your materials. Now comes the hard part…waiting several months for a response!

Follow the ASBMB Policy Blotter to read part three of this series and to stay up-to-date on science funding and science policy news!

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To be eligible for the Fellowship, candidates must possess the following minimum qualifications:

  • A PhD or equivalent level degree OR
  • An MS degree in an engineering discipline, plus at least three years post-degree experience; and
  • U.S. citizenship OR
  • Suitable immigration status for non-residents (click here for details).
Examples of PhD equivalent degrees include, but are not limited to: ScD, MD, DVM, DO, DDS, EdD

Examples of acceptable disciplines include, but are not limited to:
Agricultural Sciences Anthropology Computational Sciences
Biological Sciences Economics Health Sciences/Medicine
Chemistry Geography Mathematics/Statistics
Earth and Ocean Sciences Political Sciences Systems Sciences
Environmental SciencesPsychologySpace Sciences
Physics & Physical SciencesSociologyEducation

The following are not eligible to compete:

  • Individuals who have not completed all doctoral program requirements by September 1, 2018
  • Individuals who have registered as lobbyists in the State of California or under the federal Lobbying Disclosure Act within 6 months of the application deadline
  • Active state of California employees

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Yes. There is a need for scientists and engineers from all sectors to participate in this program. With a broad range of backgrounds, the fellows will offer a wide array of technical expertise to legislative offices. Scientists and engineers from industry can benefit from the professional development aspects of the program as much as those from academia or other sectors. As with all other fellows, there will be a requirement to abide by the conflict of interest guidelines and disclosure requirements of the Legislature.

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Yes, under certain circumstances. You may apply if you expect all doctoral program requirements to be completed by September 1, 2018. CCST reserves the right to demand proof of degree as a condition of the Fellowship.

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No. We expect some successful applicants to be at the beginning of their careers. Experience is only one of several key evaluation criteria. What helps distinguish a successful candidate at this early stage in their career is a demonstrated commitment to communicating their scientific work to a broader audience and tackling topics that impact public health, safety, and welfare.

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No. CCST is recruiting nationally and encourages applications from individuals across the country. Fellows should be interested in California policy issues and its legislative process. In addition, intensive training about the California policy making process will be provided at the start of the Fellowship program.

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Fellows are expected to provide unbiased advice to legislators and may not advocate for particular points of view. Registered lobbyists or persons who have been registered within 6 months of the application deadline may not apply for the current Fellowship year.

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State employees cannot apply if they retain ties to their agency and continue to draw a salary. They may apply if they are on leave without pay for the duration of the Fellowship and if they have no independent interaction with their home agency during the period of the Fellowship.

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We are looking for candidates who are open to learning and who will be effective at engaging in the policy making process with impartial scientific and technological contributions to the legislative process.

While there is no ideal candidate, there are certain traits that predict success. Among these are:

  • A sincere interest in California current events and state legislative and political processes
  • A capacity to be flexible, adaptable, and fully engaged
  • A willingness to work in a fast paced, high profile work environment
  • A strong desire to learn how policy decisions are made and to understand and appreciate the needs of decision makers
  • Powerful written and oral communication skills
  • An ability to translate often complex scientific data into non-technical prose
  • A strong desire to inform public policy decisions using sound and unbiased scientific and technical data
  • An ability to deal comfortably with technical information outside one's own specialty
  • An appreciation for the talents and abilities of individuals with differing backgrounds and credentials
  • An affinity for interdisciplinary collaboration
  • Personal initiative and self-motivation
  • An ability to work on diverse teams and to take direction from non-scientific personnel
  • Leadership potential
  • Strong analytical and problem solving capabilities
  • Personal and professional versatility and adaptability
  • Personal integrity

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No. It is impossible to predict what specific technical issues and questions will come up during the course of your Fellowship year. Although you may be asked to weigh in on questions that are in your area of expertise, it is far more likely that you will research other issues and interact with experts from other disciplines. Your training in the scientific method (inquiry, analytical skills, etc.) will serve you as much, or more, than your specific training.

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No. Fellows are not expected to know how the policy world works prior to beginning the Fellowship, but they are expected to be interested in learning about the process.

The selection committee will take into account the level of policy expertise a candidate could reasonably be expected to have based on their training. An astronomer would not be expected to have any formal training in policy, whereas an economist or a political scientist might. Neither candidate would have an inherent advantage. However, the selection committee will be looking for candidates who demonstrate an understanding of the potential societal value of their work and of science in general and how technical expertise can be useful to those who make decisions on behalf of the public.

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No. We encourage applications from professionals at all stages of their careers. Experienced technical personnel will have much to contribute to the legislative process. What will mark success in candidates at this career stage will be an ability to thrive in an environment vastly different from what you may be used to and an understanding and acceptance of the fact that in the legislative arena you will be the student and that your "teachers" may be much younger than you.

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See "How do I apply" for information on application timelines and deadlines.

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Yes. You will be required to complete your application online. When you go to the application you will first be required to establish an account at which time you will be provided a unique account number. This account number will be required on all for all supporting documents (e.g. letters of recommendation). See directions on the applications page .

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Yes, they do. Applicants should provide their references with all the necessary information pertaining to reference letters, including the applicant's unique identifier number and submission deadline. Applications with fewer than three references by the submission deadline will not be reviewed.

Recommendation letters must be submitted online and must reference your application account number. Under special circumstances, recommendation letters may be submitted via U.S. mail (see below). See directions on the applications page .

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You should ask your references to include the following information in their letters:
  • How long the individual has known you and in what context
  • How this Fellowship would benefit you and what skills, training and personal attributes you would bring to the Fellowship program
  • What your particular strengths are and what challenges you might face in this setting
Your references need to submit their letters directly to CCST by e-mail (preferably from their professional account) by no later than 5:00 pm PST, on February 28, 2018. Their letters must include your application account number in the subject line. They will receive confirmation that CCST has received their letter once it has been reviewed and accepted as valid. You may wish to provide them with the "What are you looking for in a Fellow?", which contains more details about how to submit recommendations. Reference letters should be emailed as Word or PDF attachments to onlineapply@fellows.ccst.us

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Once a reference has been reviewed and accepted as valid by the CCST staff, you will receive an email from the application system that a recommendation letter has been received. In addition, you may log on to your application account and check the status of your reference letters on the dashboard tab. We also recommend that you check with your references to see if they received a confirmation of receipt from CCST

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You may, if you wish, request more than three of your references to submit letters of recommendation, but the Selection Committee will only look at the first three received by CCST.

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Yes, but CCST will confirm receipt of only those recommendations submitted via e-mail. Letters need to be received at the Sacramento CCST office by February 28, 2018 in order to be accepted as part of your application.

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Absolutely. The Selection Committee will be looking for candidates with broad experience. Previous employment or volunteer work that has no relationship to science or your academic career will be considered relevant as a demonstration of your overall experience, interests, and abilities. Also include any previous fellowships you have received, even though they may have been outside your current field.

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CCST employs a multi-tiered approach to the review process, to ensure candidates have an opportunity to present themselves in the most favorable light and to allow the selection committee to fairly gauge the potential of success for each candidate. Following an administrative review to confirm the eligibility of a candidate's application packet, the committee evaluates the written material submitted and selects finalists, who will be brought to Sacramento for interviews. After the interviews are completed, the committee will select up to ten individuals (and several alternates) who will be offered fellowships.

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The selection committee will complete its evaluations of the application material and select finalists for interviews approximately 2 months after the close of the application period.

Finalists will be notified immediately, at which time they will receive a briefing paper assignment and information about when and where to report for an interview. Interviews will take place over a three-day period approximately a month after being notified of finalist status. All applicants must be able to attend their interview in person. No teleconference or videoconference interviews will be permitted. Reasonable domestic travel costs for the interviews will be reimbursed.

Fellowship placement offers will follow soon after the interviews. This timing provides ample opportunity for fellows to complete current assignments, secure housing in Sacramento, and be ready to begin the Fellowship on November 1st of the selection year. For a more detailed look at the selection calendar please click here.

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The interview process provides a valuable opportunity for selection committee members to assess each candidate to determine if they would thrive in the Fellowship environment and would be effective at contributing a sound analytical perspective to the legislative process. It enables the committee to see the candidates in action -- to witness their ability to think on their feet, to solve problems and analyze options, and to effectively communicate technical information to a non-technical audience in a time frame relevant to the policymaking arena. It also allows members of the selection committee to follow up on any specific questions they may have from a candidate's application. Because an effective Fellow will be evaluated on more than education, research experience and journal articles, the interview provides the candidates with an opportunity to present to the selection committee those attributes of their character and style that they think will be most effective in the legislative environment.

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The CCST Science and Technology Policy Fellowship program is modeled on a federally focused Fellowship program operated by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for more than three decades.

AAAS has done extensive research into the effect its policy fellowships have had on participants. In brief, nearly 100% of fellows reported that the Fellowship had a major positive effect on their careers, regardless of the professional path they took after completing the Fellowship. Fellows are nearly unanimous in citing the Fellowship as one of the best and most important experiences in their professional lives.

CCST fellows have also cited the impact of our program on their professional and personal growth. To read profiles from CCST Fellowship alumni, visit the CCST Fellowship blog.

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This Fellowship places you in an environment unlike the academic one from which you may be coming. The Fellowship work environment is in a public setting where the pace is fast and driven by legislative deadlines. "Science and technology policy" refers to the laws and regulations that are put into place by lawmakers and the executive branch of government with a scientific or technological impact or component in their subject matter. Examples of science policy topics include incentives for the development and application of new technologies such as genomics, nanotech or artificial photosynthesis, the use and conservation of natural resources, protection of public health, and development and regulation of energy sources. The range of issues Fellows have worked include renewable energy, genetic testing, air quality, toxic materials, transportation, water supply and quality, regulatory boards, governance issues and health care. The work of a Fellow may often reach beyond science and technology issues to regulatory, social and economic concerns of the state.

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The first day of the Fellowship is November 1, 2018, and the last day is October 31, 2019.

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Yes. Physical location in the state capital is a key feature of the Fellowship. Fellows serve as legislative staff and are expected to be present throughout the Fellowship year. The environment of the legislative process is fast paced and relies on relationship and trust as much as it does data. Fellows will also be expected to attend regularly scheduled seminars and other activities in Sacramento which will provide ongoing training and technical background. The valuable social network that will develop amongst the fellows and with their colleagues in the Legislature can only be achieved by consistent interactions in a close working environment. Fellows are embedded in the legislature and learn by doing.

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Fellows will be responsible for locating their own housing. CCST will make every effort to point fellows to the most popular and effective sources of information about housing in the Sacramento region, including former Fellows. This information will be included in the offer letter to fellows.

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Compared to some other state capitals, such as Springfield, Illinois, Austin, Texas, or Richmond, Virginia, Sacramento is between about 8-12% more expensive. However, compared to most major U.S. cities, it is quite reasonable. For example, living in Sacramento is 50% less expensive than in San Francisco, 35% less than in Los Angeles, 29% less than Boston and 60% less than New York City. Living in Washington, D.C. is about 47% more costly than living in Sacramento.

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Fellows are placed in legislative offices of the California State Assembly and California State Senate. Assignments are available in both policy committees and personal offices of legislators.

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Yes, we will provide training to help fellows transition to this new environment.

One extremely valuable aspect of this Fellowship is a three week training period that occurs before placement begins. During this time, fellows will benefit from an intensive, interactive (and fun) introduction to the Fellowship, to the legislative process, and to Sacramento. In addition to lectures, panel discussions, and seminars on various relevant topics, there will be numerous opportunities for experiential learning, including role playing, mock legislative sessions, group assignments, and more. Fellows will also meet legislators and legislative staff, tour the Capitol, and enjoy an in-depth introduction to Sacramento. There will be time built into the schedule for fellows to tour the area and to seek their placements in legislative offices. The training curriculum will include topics such as an overview of California politics and the legislative process, science and policymaking, effective writing and presentation styles for the legislative arena and more.

Once your placement has officially begun, you will be under the supervision of your sponsoring office; CCST will, however, monitor your progress, provide ongoing professional development training, provide you with technical contacts, mentoring, and other support throughout the Fellowship year.

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The culture and protocols for working in the State capitol do require dressing more formally than you may be used to if you are coming from an academic environment. In general, business attire is expected most weekdays, with occasionally more casual attire suitable on days designated by your assigned office. For men, a suit or slacks and sport jacket with a shirt and tie is appropriate; women should wear business dresses, suits, or skirts.

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Fellows must commit to serving the full 12-month Fellowship year. Once making that commitment, if a Fellow withdraws for any reason except verifiable medical emergency, it may be considered a breach of contract and CCST may recoup eligible costs from the Fellow. At the present time, there is no provision for extending or renewing the Fellowship.

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The base stipend is $50,000, which is comparable to the stipends provided to experienced postdoctoral scholars at the University of California. In addition, CCST will reimburse up to $4,000 in actual relocation costs (for moves over 50 miles) and will provide additional allowances for health insurance. CCST also offers funding for travel and professional development activities that support your Fellowship experience.

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Yes. Although most fellows will be paid the base stipend, we have limited flexibility to provide a larger stipend for fellows who meet certain criteria of experience and current salary.

At the time you are selected as one of the 10 finalists, if you feel you need to seek a higher stipend, you will be asked to complete a stipend increase request. Your request will be reviewed and you will be notified immediately of the level of stipend available to you. You will then have one week to determine your interest and ability to accept the offer as proffered. If you decline, an offer will be made to an alternate from the finalist list.

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In addition to your base stipend, up to $1,000 per month will be reimbursed by CCST for the cost of your health and medical insurance coverage. In addition to health and medical coverage, this reimbursement allowance can also cover other health and medical costs and expenses such as copayments, prescriptions or coverage for your immediate family (spouse, domestic partner, and/or dependents). Other than this reimbursement, neither CCST or the Legislature will provide you with insurance benefits.

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Fellows will be paid a monthly stipend which will be taxable as income. Federal or state taxes will not be withheld; fellows will be responsible for paying their own estimated taxes. You will receive a federal 1099-MISC form at the end of the calendar year to report the income. It is recommended that you contact a licensed tax preparer in advance of your Fellowship year to answer questions relating to your specific situation.

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No. You will not be an employee of the State nor will you be an employee of CCST. You will be paid by CCST as an independent contractor. The Fellowship provides a unique professional development opportunity to science and technology professionals. You will be fully immersed in the legislative arena. Your daily activities will complement activities of employees in the same office. And, as all other individuals in the legislative environment, you will be bound by the same codes of conduct, financial disclosure requirements, and ethics guidelines.

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Because fellows will be housed in legislative offices, they occupy positions of public trust. Anyone privileged to work in such an environment is held to high standards of personal and professional behavior.

All designated employees of the state legislature are required to submit annual financial disclosure forms that elucidate any financial relationships that might cause a conflict of interest. Given the nature of the Fellowship, participants will be required to sign standard forms certifying that they will abide by rules of ethical conduct established by the state legislature. Fellows will also be required to attend ethics training courses.

These provisions are guided by the California Political Reform Act, the State Constitution and other government codes that regulate the conduct of legislative members and staff. You will be provided more detailed information regarding these requirements if you are selected to be a Fellow.

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You may publish while on the Fellowship under certain conditions. Submission of papers is subject to review by CCST and the legislative Host Office to avoid conflicts of interest, and to ensure that there is no breach of confidentiality. The complete rules pertaining to publishing are contained in the Fellowship policies and procedures handbook, which will be provided to fellows during the three-week training.

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