At a symposium at the National Academy of Sciences on June 15, Rep.
Rush Holt (D-NJ) spoke about the importance of bringing high-quality
scientific advice and expertise to the U.S. government. His words have
relevance for anyone interested in the Fellowship programs that bring
bright, motivated scientists to Washington each year to provide their
knowledge and skills to the nation's decisionmakers. The American Institute
of Physics (AIP), with additional support from the the American Astronomical
Society (AAS); the American Physical Society (APS); the American Geophysical
Union (AGU); and the Optical Society of America (OSA) all sponsor Fellowship
programs for qualified scientists. Please see below for web sites that
will provide further information.
"It is a challenge" to bring science to any part of the federal
government, Holt said, speaking from first-hand knowledge, having served
as the American Physical Society's 1982-1983 Congressional Science Fellow,
as well as four terms as a Member of the House of Representatives. Most
Americans, he said, have "a poor understanding of how science is
done" and "what science is for." While the Sputnik scare
in the 1950s "did produce a couple of generations of the finest
scientists and engineers the world has ever seen," Holt acknowledged,
it "left behind" most of the general public. The result, he
said, "is that well-educated, well-meaning members of the government
don't know a damn thing about science." The House of Representatives,
in which he serves, "is nothing if not representative" in
this regard, he added.
As Fellows, Holt said, scientists are in a position to convey to policymakers
what science is, how it works, and why "scientific knowledge is
reliable knowledge." He cautioned, however, that Fellows will be
dealing with people they must "educate, not alienate." George
Atkinson, the Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State,
echoed this by highlighting the importance of building "interpersonal
relationships" in order to get a scientific voice included in policy
decisions. Atkinson also served as a Fellow; he was AIP's first State
Department Science Fellow in 2001-2002. "The conundrum for science
in the 21st century," Atkinson remarked, "is that policymakers
There are a number of Fellowship programs that enable scientists and
engineers to come to Washington each September, for at least a year,
to offer their expertise to the federal government. Requirements for
these programs vary, but generally include graduate education in a field
of science or engineering, membership in the professional society sponsoring
the Fellowship, and often U.S. citizenship, as well as a passionate
interest in how science can inform and improve government policymaking.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), through
its Science and Technology Policy Fellowships (see http://fellowships.aaas.org/),
offers Fellowships in Congress and many Executive Branch agencies. Many
professional science and engineering societies, including AIP and three
of its Member Societies, also sponsor their own Fellowships under the
auspices of the AAAS program.
AIP runs two Fellowship programs, a State Department Science Fellowship
that enables at least one scientist per year to work in a bureau of
the State Department (see http://www.aip.org/gov/sdf.html),
and a Congressional Science Fellowship that supports one scientist annually
to work for a Member of Congress or for a congressional committee (see
Partial support for the AIP State Department Fellowship is provided
by the American Astronomical Society.
NOTE: The application deadline for AIP's 2007-2008 State
Department Fellowship is November 1 of this year. Further information
on applying to this program will be provided in a future FYI.
APS, AGU, and OSA, all AIP Member Societies, also run Congressional
Science Fellowships. Application deadlines for these programs differ,
but are usually near the beginning of the year. Please see the individual
web sites below for details:
American Physical Society:
American Geophysical Union:
Optical Society of America (sponsors two Congressional Fellows, jointly
with the Materials Research Society and the International Society for
The U.S. Department of State itself also offers a Fellowship program,
the Jefferson Science Fellowship, for tenured science and engineering
faculty at U.S. universities (see http://www7.nationalacademies.org/jefferson/).
It was at a symposium on the Jefferson Science Fellowship that Holt
and Atkinson made the remarks noted above, but their words hold true
for all scientists who are interested in a Fellowship opportunity and
who care about how their government receives and utilizes scientific
information and analysis.