May 15, 2019
Students in Science Policy: Science Policy Internships
Posted by Caitlin Bergstrom
Every summer and fall, AGU offers paid internships in our Public Affairs department. Interns tackle a range of tasks, from attending Congressional hearings to writing blog posts like this one! Our former intern Alison Evans is currently an associate at Lewis-Burke Associates LLC, a government relations and consulting firm in Washington DC, where she works with universities and non-profit science societies to advocate on behalf of the higher education and science. She received her B.S. in biochemistry from Arizona State University. While attending ASU, she was also an intern at the Consortium for Science Policy and Outcomes and B3 Strategies, a lobbying firm in Arizona. Laura Lyon, AGU’s Fall 2018 Public Affairs intern, spoke with Alison about experience as an AGU intern and how it shaped her science policy career.
What led you to apply for a science policy internship?
“When I started college I had never heard of science policy. I took a class my sophomore year on the Manhattan Project and the role scientists played in building atomic weapons, their political involvement following the bomb’s use, and continued development of nuclear arsenals. My professor was fantastic and worked with me as I started to navigate this new field. This peaked my initial interest in how science and policy intersect and its overall impact on society.”
“With the same professor, I did my honors thesis on Joseph Rotblat, a nuclear physicist, and studied his political involvement following his work on the Manhattan Project. This was a great research experience and validated for me my desire to move to Washington DC and work in policy following graduation.”
What were some of the most important lessons you learned from your internship?
“I learned two important things from my internship at AGU. The first was basic congressional proceedings. Since my background was in biochemistry I had minimal exposure to politics in college. AGU helped me better understand how congressional offices worked, how bills moved through committees, and how different groups engage with committees and their congressional delegations.”
“Second was how to write for different audiences and being intentional with your communications. Writing to a Hill staffer is very different from communicating with AGU members. It is important to know your audience and ensure your communication is clear and reflects their interests and needs.”
What was an unexpected challenge that you faced during your internship?
“Imposter’s syndrome. As an intern, you are often the youngest one in the room and feel you don’t bring a lot of value. It is important to remember that even though you are young, you have skills and bring value to the organization while you are there. Use this time to learn from those above you because they are almost always willing to help if you are respectful of their time and work hard on the responsibilities given to you.”
How did you feel entering the policy field without formal education in political science or public policy?
“It was nerve wracking. You assume everyone with a political science background knows so much more than you do, but anything they know you can learn through colleagues and your own independent research. The policy process needs people who aren’t only interested in politics but rather are passionate about creating informed laws. People with technical, scientific backgrounds are crucial to ensuring our nation’s science policy stays current and forward-thinking.”
What is a ‘typical’ day like at your current position?
“Each day looks a bit different, especially depending on the time of year. At the beginning of the year, we are focused on appropriations and advocating on behalf of our clients’ interests and educating Hill staff on current funding needs for education and research.”
“During the spring, we are fortunate to be able to visit a lot of our university clients and meet with leadership and researchers. This provides a good understanding of what research they are pursuing and provides ideas for areas we can advocate for or perhaps brainstorm with clients on new federal opportunities they could pursue.”
“Fall and winter involves a lot of strategy development and brainstorming. We work with federal relations colleagues or research leaders on campus to develop advocacy priorities for the coming year.”
What advice do you have for students interested in pursuing a career in science policy?
“There is no “correct” way to find a career in science policy. I work with colleagues with extremely diverse backgrounds, PhDs, lawyers, political science geeks. If you currently love doing scientific research, keep doing it! You can always engage in the legislative process through professional organizations, like AGU, or contacting your Members of Congress if you have concerns about specific legislation or want to inform them of new, cutting-edge research.”
“Make sure you take advantage of any professors or courses at your university that address science and society. This could help you make connections will people currently doing policy work and will grow your own knowledge.”
An internship with AGU is a great way for interested students to get their foot in the door. “My internship was crucial to being hired by my current firm and gave me great skills that I utilize daily” said Alison, “knowledge of the congressional process, writing skills, and building an understanding of Washington DC were a great help as I transitioned from being an intern to a full-time employee.” Visit our site to learn more about our science policy internships and other student opportunities. Be sure to follow @AGUSciPolicy on Twitter where we post internship openings and other great science policy resources.