If you like the idea of working for the government, but would rather stay away from bench or field research, you may want to consider the option of working in public policy.
Working in public policy allows you the unique opportunity to influence the direction of national policy within your field, be it by working directly with lawmakers or establishing and advising government programs, there are many opportunities to serve as a technical expert in fields that include healthcare, energy , education, and environmental issues.
While it may at first seem daunting to approach the world of politics directly from graduate school, there are actually quite a few internship and postdoctoral programs that allow you to get your foot in the door of public policy. If you are currently a graduate student, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offers an internship program in the Office of Policy . Programs that are looking for recent graduates include the Presidential Management Fellowship and the AAAS Science and Technology Fellowships. Other places to look for policy positions that may meet your skills include:
- National Institutes of Health (NIH)
- National Science Foundation (NSF)
- Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP)
- Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Once you find a position or fellowship that interests you, applying is a pretty straightforward process. Most positions are posted online and allow you to submit your resume and cover letter electronically. Although being able to submit your application online is convenient, remember that the automated application review systems can be fairly rigid when it comes to requiring that applicants provide the desired qualifications and keywords in their application materials. In other words, make sure that your application isn’t weeded out before it even gets in front of an actual human being.
As with most government jobs, long work hours tend to be an aberration. 40 hour work weeks are generally the norm, but if specific deadlines for projects are looming, don’t be surprised if the work day extends beyond 9-5.
Internships may be unpaid, but postdoctoral fellowships in policy follow the governmental “General Schedule” or GS pay grades in the range of GS-9 to GS-12 (will vary by your location but generally translates to $50-90K in the Washington, DC area). The specific GS is usually listed alongside the opportunity announcement for any other entry level policy position that you may come across, and the translation of GS to dollars can be found here.
If you should choose to leave your position in public policy, you may choose to seek out other opportunities that deal with government influence including becoming a lobbyist or joining a think tank. If you should choose to leave government altogether, you will find your developed skills in communication, organization, and persuasion are looked upon favorably in many fields that include marketing, communications, investor relations, and business development.