Celebrating Thirty Years of Convergence: The AAAS S&T Congressional Fellowship Program

by Jutta Kern

In 1973, seven U.S. scientists took "the career path less traveled," as the pioneering director of the AAAS Congressional Science Fellowship program put it, and joined lawmakers for one year on Capitol Hill in shaping science policy.

{access view=guest}Access to the full article is free, but requires you to register. Registration is simple and quick - all we need is your name and a valid e-mail address. We appreciate your interest in bridges.{/access} {access view=!guest}Thirty years later, the anniversary symposium and celebration clearly proved that this fellowship scheme, which had started as an experiment, has turned out to be a major instrument in the creation of U.S. science policy. The narrow path unfolded into a broad—though exclusive—avenue offering career perspectives for scientists in the field of policy making. Since its inception, the AAAS S&T Fellowship Program has branched out to include ten different fellowship programs targeting more than 25 federal agencies and departments, as well as nongovernmental organizations:

  • Roger Revelle Fellowship in Global Stewardship Program: Fellows work for one year in an environmental policy area, domestic or international, within the Congress, a relevant executive branch agency, or elsewhere in the policy community.
  • Congressional Fellowship Program: Fellows spend one year on Capitol Hill working with members of Congress or congressional committees as special assistants in legislative and policy areas requiring scientific and technical input.
  • AAAS/NTI Fellowship in Global Security Program: Fellows spend one year working to bring public health and medical expertise to bear on issues relating to biological weapons, bioterrorism nonproliferation, and federal response planning efforts.
  • Diplomacy Fellowship Program: Fellows work in international affairs on scientific and technical subjects for one year, either in foreign policy at the U.S. Department of State, in international development for the U.S. Agency for International Development, in international economic and agricultural development at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or in international health at the Fogarty International Center of the National Institutes of Health.
  • Risk Policy Fellowship Program in Health, Safety and the Environment: Fellows work for one year at either the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, providing scientific and technical input on issues relating to human health, economic, and environmental aspects of risk assessment or risk management.
  • Defense Policy Fellowship Program: Fellows work on issues related to defense policy, technology applications, defense systems analysis, and program oversight and management in one-year assignments in the offices of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics; the Army Research Office; or the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. Assignments may involve interagency, congressional, or international activity.
  • Environmental Fellowship Program: Fellows work for one year at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's headquarters in Washington, DC, on an array of projects relating to science policy and the environment, including projects in risk assessment.
  • AAAS/NSF Science and Engineering Fellowship Program: Fellows spend one year at the National Science Foundation (NSF) learning how NSF funds science, while providing scientific, engineering, and educational input on issues relating to NSF's mission to support fundamental science and engineering research and education
  • AAAS/NIH Science Policy Fellowship Program: Fellows spend one year at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) learning about the analysis, development, and implementation of policies that affect the conduct of medical research.
  • AAAS Homeland Security Fellowship Program: Fellows spend one year in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) working in the Office of Research and Development (ORD) within the Directorate for Science and Technology.

The AAAS Fellowship programs aim to foster convergence of academia and public policy making by addressing postdoctoral to mid-career scientists and engineers. About 1,600 fellowships with annual stipends ranging from US$62,000 to US$75,000, have been awarded so far. Many of the participants have permanently traded the tenure track for a career path in public policy.

"No, it defined my career path," says Kerry Ann Jones, for instance, when asked whether the AAAS Fellowship program had changed her career. Dr. Jones [see also section "people in the spotlight" of this issue], director of the Office of International Science and Engineering at the National Science Foundation (NSF), is no exception among her fellow alumni in holding a top position within the U.S. science and technology policy landscape. Dr. George Atkinson, Science Advisor to the Secretary of State Colin Powell, also is one of the AAAS S&T Fellowship alumni.

The creation of the Congressional Science and Engineering Fellowship Program has changed the relationship between the scientific community and the federal government. Not only do scientists or engineers take back to academia a different, more knowledgeable view of policy making, but also the U.S. Congress has changed. Many members of Congress and congressional committees now have scientists with advanced degrees on their staffs. A direct ramification of the fellowship scheme is a rise in the level of communication between politicians and scientists.

The concept of the AAAS Fellowship Program has received international recognition as a role model and an answer to the question of how to shape science policy in an informed way. The Swiss government has already implemented a similar program, and the development of an Australian program is about to be finalized.

Web Resources
AAAS Fellowship Programs:
Personal accounts of fellowship participants:
Press release of the Australian Program: