The Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences hosted Dr. Genevieve Croft in Aug. 2020 for a career development talk on science policy.
Dr. Croft is a policy analyst at the Congressional Research Service. She is a former AAAS Fellow and a Mirzayan Fellow. She has a Ph.D. in Biology from Washington University in St. Louis and a B.S. in Biology from Georgetown University. This talk was a part of the GSBS Career Exploration Series which highlights the variety of different careers for scientists.
Dr. Croft began her talk discussing what we mean when we use the term “science policy.” She stated that it can be thought of in two ways: “policy for science” and “science for policy.”
She explained that “science for policy” is where scientific expertise is needed to inform broader policies, while “policy for science” refers to shaping the scientific research enterprise. A good example of “science for policy” is being shown now during the pandemic, as agencies are asking scientists for information, asking what scientists and researchers have to say about designing and implementing federal programs and recommendations, like how to reopen schools safely or how to strategically distribute a new vaccine when it first comes out.”Science for policy” happens when you might be working at an agency where science is influencing steps at the state and federal level.
On the other hand, “policy for science” could be working at an entity that is lobbying Congress or working within the government bringing forward ideas or white papers about how what research needs to be funded, how agencies should coordinate their research efforts, or how to make sure we have a skilled scientific workforce to meet national needs. It’s also good to remember that science policy work happens at governments at all levels (federal, state and local) as well as through non-profit organizations, foundations and professional societies.
Dr. Croft also stressed that while there are many opportunities in Washington, D.C., there are also opportunities locally as well, such as government relations staff at universities, or local groups and organizations. She encouraged those interested to check out the Engaging Scientists & Engineers in Policy (ESEP) Coalition, a national science policy network that can help support individuals and local efforts.
Currently, Dr. Croft works for the Congressional Research Service (CRS) as an agricultural policy analyst. The Congressional Research Service employees approximately 600 people, and about half of these are analysts, experts in different policy areas of interest to Congress. CRS provides a service to Congress, i.e. senators and representatives (and their staffs) are their clients.
Dr. Croft specifically works on projects related to agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) research programs, federal biotechnology programs, and climate change in agriculture. She collaborates with fellow analysts in other areas of expertise as needed to answer questions. She most frequently works with the Senate and House Agriculture Committee members and their staffs, and the subcommittee on research, horticulture and biotechnology, sometimes with information and research for very aspirational bills.
Day to day duties include answering calls, writing emails, writing confidential memorandums and helping with bills. Another aspect of her position is writing reports, either in response to requests or proactively through CRS’s long-form reports or short two page in-focus reports on timely topics. Dr. Croft relayed that skills for this type of position include starting with a base of expertise and being able to do in-depth analysis. You need to be able to look up information, dig deep into historical documents and draw connections between questions received as well as news articles and research that you’ve read. In response to question about needing to study a specific area of science, Dr. Croft said that Congress always needs scientific advice in a variety of different fields.
Prior to CRS, Dr. Croft worked for three years in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Office of the Chief Scientist as an advisor for international affairs. This position included advising the chief scientist (a political appointee) and interacting with other scientists from many countries. This position involved more relationship building and maintaining than her current role as an analyst. At USDA, Dr. Croft developed working papers with scientists from other countries, negotiated language used, and worked with allies before international meetings to ensure colleagues were on the same page to advance a united cause to move in the same direction. Another function of her role was to bring people together and convene meetings and activities for groups, for example a visit she planned in Oklahoma for a group of international scientists.
Dr. Croft was also previously a AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow. AAAS S&T fellows work in all three branches of government (executive, legislative & judicial) and U.S. Citizenship is required, in part because many positions require security clearance. Applicants should have a demonstrated interest in bringing science to the public good. Dr. Croft did her fellowship at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) as she had a strong interest in international work. She worked for the Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN), a network of competitively awarded “development labs” at seven universities, including Texas A&M. HESN had an annual meeting, TechCon, of their funded universities to showcase their programs, share ideas and demonstrate scientific technology for international development. Dr. Croft and other AAAS fellows organized a Student Innovation Marketplace during the annual meeting to present graduate student work and share ideas as well.
Dr. Croft was also a Christine Mirzayan Science and Technology Policy Fellow at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM). This is a twelve-week paid fellowship program and all fellows work at the National Academies. NASEM puts out more than 300 reports each year, 85 percent of which are requested and funded by the Federal Government. NASEM produces consensus studies and they gather representative groups of experts to collaborate on reports. During her time there, Dr. Croft worked on STEM Education. She related that the most beneficial part of the fellowship, and all fellowships she participated in, was the networking. She made contacts that she still connects and communicates with, whether that be for finding your next job, or finding people with the expertise you need for projects and reports.
Dr. Croft started her science policy career as a Graduate Intern at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). OSTP convenes and coordinates across many federal agencies, organizing federal committees and working groups with representatives from agencies of scientific interested, including USDA, the State Department, NIH, EPA, and others. OSTP may direct executive branch policy, can strongly encourage federal agencies to take certain steps, can ask the President to write directives, and can bring together people such as regular citizens with scientists, private enterprise, and non-profit groups to share ideas and to build relationships. The OSTP program is a 90-day unpaid internship program and is for enrolled graduate and undergraduate students and U.S. citizens only.
Dr. Croft closed by saying that there is a need for knowledge about any aspect of science. If possible, she recommended having an economic hook to your thesis. People can work in science policy from any angle of science as long as you can zoom out from a very specific issue and are able to think about it in a larger context.
- If you are interested, CRS has posted their reports publicly since 2018 at https://crsreports.congress.gov.
- AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowship 2021 application deadline is Nov. 1, 2020 and your degree must be completed by Nov. 1st.
- Christine Mirzayan Science and Technology Policy Fellowship Fall 2021 application deadline is April 20, 2021.
- White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Student Volunteer Program Spring 2021 deadline is Oct. 23, 2020 (three cohorts per year).
About The Author
This article was written by Mary Bradley, MLA, the Director of Career & Professional Development at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.