Science Outside the Lab: A Two-week Crash Course in Science Policy in the Federal Government

Jason Albert, Pharmaceutical Sciences PhD Candidate and STPP Certificate Student

For some PhD candidates, the question “When are you defending?” can be asked innocently, but cause a fair amount of anxiety. As someone who began his graduate studies with the intention of working in pharmaceutical research and development, but who has been drawn more and more to science policy, the question “What do you want to do with that degree?” fell into the same category. While I have very much enjoyed my STPP coursework, I knew that I needed some firsthand exposure to the professional science policy world in order to get some clarity on this question. I had heard about a program called Science Outside the Lab from some STPP faculty members and decided that this past summer was the time to apply.  
Science Outside the Lab (SOtL) is a two-week program run by Arizona State University (ASU) and based out of their K St., Washington, D.C. campus. Most years, SOtL runs two programs: one for PhD students from around the country and one for students in ASU’s Masters in Science and Technology Policy Program. This year, though, these programs were merged. For two weeks, the 15 of us went around D.C. (and Bethesda) meeting with science policy professionals from an alphabet soup of agencies, institutes, and companies: NIH, STPI, IBM, NASA, OMB, OSTP, NAS, CRS, GAO, UCS, AAAS, WWF, UN, USAID, USDA, NOAA, CRDF, VA, PCORI, and more.
One thing that stood out to me throughout the workshop was the paradoxical size of the D.C. science policy apparatus; it is bigger than I could imagine, but still a small, small world. By this, I mean that there a many more ways to contribute to this growing field and many more people working in it that I had previously understood, but everyone seemed to know everyone. It is a tight-knit community and the importance of networking was reiterated by nearly everyone we met.
Personally, a certain class of agencies and institutes stood out to me. The Congressional Research Service (CRS), Science and Technology Policy Institute (STPI), Government Accountability Office (GAO), and National Academy of Sciences (NAS) each use scientific expertise to better inform government, (ideally) so that it can make better decisions with respect to policies. While I understand that basic research is the foundation upon which applied research and development is conducted, one aspect of scientific research with which I have struggled is the feeling that my day-to-day work is too far removed from affecting people’s lives These agencies apply scientific rigor and expertise in a way that can tangibly affect lives on a large scale, and that is exciting to me.
Coming out of SOtL, I don’t have an exact answer to the question of what I want to do, but I do have a much better idea, and STPP’s Career Development Grant helped make my experience possible.

This student received the STPP Student Career Development Grant. The Career Development Grant provides supplemental support for students to attend STPP-related conferences and professional development opportunities that may otherwise be cost-prohibitive.