Expanding Professional Development Opportunities for Scientists Beyond the Lab

December 4, 2019 | 11:02 am
Mike Olliver
Lida Beninson & Tess Doezema

We live in an age where the world and its population seem fragile and vulnerable, yet at the same time, full of radical potential. Millions of people face life-threatening opioid addiction, the global climate continues to worsen, voting infrastructure has been compromised, and the security of our health and financial data has been undermined. On the plus side, alternative energy technologies are becoming cheaper and more widely adopted, our understanding of gravitational waves is unfolding, quantum computing is becoming a reality, and nearly every country in the world has agreed to achieve a set of ambitious sustainability goals. A thread connecting all of these issues, good and bad, is science policy.

It isn’t often that an emerging scientist, either at the undergraduate or graduate stage of training, is encouraged to think about engaging with science policy. The impact of policy on scientific research and the influence of science on policy isn’t typically part of the degree path of coursework, labs, and independent research projects. Nevertheless, science is tightly intertwined with policy, with vast implications for researchers and human societies. Politicians play a key role in defining the research budget and part of the research agenda, and in many cases, scientific researchers can contribute important guidance for sound decision-making. Unfortunately, the decisions laid before our political leaders far outnumber and outpace the availability of our scientists to provide advice. Even more concerning is the current political and public trend of disregarding scientific consensus in favor of outlandish opinions or convenient retention of the status quo. When research trainees do feel compelled to share their research and growing expertise beyond term papers or scientific journals and learn about issues in science policy, few options are readily available. Some colleges and universities offer courses in science policy, but even fewer provide formal science policy certificate and degree programs. There are even numerous anecdotes that some principle investigators forbid their graduate students and postdocs from enrolling in policy courses and programs, fearing that the courses will detract from their research priorities. What options are available to an emerging scientist eager to engage with the world outside their research sphere?

For those early career scientists seeking to enrich their training to understand the use of science in decision-making, connect their research to stakeholders, and communicate science to different audiences, The Journal of Science Policy and Governance (JSPG) provides multiple professional development opportunities to build these competencies. JSPG is a peer-reviewed journal for students and emerging scientists to publish on a broad range of topics where science and technology intersect with policy. The journal not only helps young scholars develop public communication skills, but challenges them to examine the social forces interwoven through science and politics. JSPG supports professional development of early career researchers on 3 key levels:

  • Accepting articles for publication: Researchers who submit to the journal have the opportunity to work closely with the editing staff to improve their writing and policy knowledge. In many cases, this is one of the first opportunities the author has for publication. The editorial staff collaborate with the author(s) to help them craft their communication, which may require stepping out of their comfort zone. For example, a chemist and a biologist could collaborate to write about evidence-based environmental policies, or a medical student could weigh in on healthcare reform.
  • Volunteering as associate editors: Not only are JSPG’s contributors students and trainees, but so are the journal’s associate editors. The editors have the opportunity to both learn about and highlight pressing worldwide policy issues connected to the sciences. Importantly, they collaborate with the authors on the writing and policy connections in the articles, and both parties further their understanding of science policy through the process.
  • Centralizing science policy opportunities and resources: Recently, JSPG has begun curating resources for students and emerging researchers interested in engaging in science policy, including internship and fellowship opportunities, writing guides, teaching resources, and relevant websites.

The need for scientists to broaden their engagement beyond research is more urgent than ever. By providing multiple opportunities for professional development, JSPG aims to elevate the engagement of emerging scientists with policy by helping them communicate their work for the more effective incorporation of scientific advances into decision processes, as well as connecting them to resources to continue to develop their science policy knowledge.

Dr. Lida Beninson is Senior Program Officer with the Board of Higher Education and Workforce at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. With experiences in STEM education, data science, science and technology policy, biomedical research, and agricultural biotechnology, Lida pursues opportunities to serve society through her diverse scientific expertise. She served as Editor-in-Chief for The Journal of Science Policy and Governance and was a recipient of the AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award.

Tess Doezema is a Doctoral Candidate in the Human and Social Dimensions of Science and Technology at Arizona State University’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society. Her research examines the intersection of biotechnological innovation, global market creation, and nationally situated approaches to science policy in the U.S. and Brazil. Tess was a 2015 USAID Research Innovation Fellow. In that capacity, she examined bioeconomy imaginaries in Brazil, with a focus on biofuels innovation. She has served as Associate Editor, Assistant Editor-in-Chief, as well as Editor-in-Chief with the Journal of Science Policy & Governance.

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