September 2019 STPF Live Chat: Application & Interview Process


– Hello and thank you for
joining the fifth live chat in our 2019 series about the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowships. My name is Jessica Soule and I’m the recruitment
director for the fellowships. I will be your moderator for today’s chat. The 2019 Live Chat Series is an opportunity for you, our audience, to ask fellows your questions. Today, I’m joined by three fellows. Janani Prabhakar, Kim
Binsted, and Teresa Parr, to share their experiences
on what it’s like to be a fellow. Before we dive into the conversation, I’d like to share a few
important announcements and features of the fellowship. First, a recording of this live chat, as well as additional details about eligibility requirements, the application process, and program areas can be found on the fellowship website. The 2019 Live Chat Series features one chat each month
of the application season. Today’s topic is The Application
and Interview Process. Next month’s chat will be our final chat, and it will focus on
asking a fellow anything. It will be a great chance to join in if you’re applying this year. We’ll send you a link to
register for the final chat after today’s webinar. And as I noted before, all chats are recorded and made available on our website for later viewing. Okay, so the application is now open and will close on Friday, November 1st at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time. Feel free to watch the last five minutes of our May or June live chat recordings for a short walkthrough of
the application portal itself to see what to expect from
the application this year. And today, we’re curious. How did you hear about the fellowships? A poll will pop up on your screen and we’d love to hear from you. And excuse me, it’s do you plan to apply to the fellowships? Just a few more seconds. All right, and let’s see
who’s in the audience. Fantastic, so we have a lot of folks who are planning to apply this year or who are going to be
applying in the future. So, we hope that wherever you are in your application process, that this is a valuable
conversation for you and that we can answer your questions. So I’d like to hear even a
little more about you now. So, during the conversation today, which elements of the application and interview process are
you hoping we focus on? You’ll have a few options and you can select all that apply to you. Great, thank you for sharing all of your priorities
for the conversation. Let’s see, we have a lot of things to cover with everybody today. We’ll talk about program areas, recommendation letters, your written candidate statements, and then also a bit about what the process is like
after you click Apply, if you’re invited to a virtual interview and asked to write a policy memo. So, as my final reminder before we get started with our panel, you must be a US citizen to apply and hold a doctoral degree in the science or engineering field. You cannot be a full time federal employee or a full time AAAS
employee when you apply. Applicants with a masters in engineering plus three years of professional
engineering experience are also eligible. Okay, so I’m very excited to
hear from our guests today, Janani, Kim, and Teresa. You can submit questions
via chat at any time by clicking the box in your menu and typing your questions there. And you can indicate
which person or people your question is directed to. Okay now, let’s do a proper introduction to the fellows joining us today. Dr. Janani Prabhakar was a 2017 to 2019 Executive Branch Fellow at the National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health. Her training is as a developmental
cognitive neuroscientist. Before the fellowship, she studied the neurocognitive development of memory and decision making from infancy to adolescence, where she could be found
herding sleeping children into MRI scanners at 11 p.m. Dr. Kim Binsted was a AAAS Congressional Science
and Engineering Fellow in the Office of Senator
Sheldon Whitehouse. Kim’s background is in computer science. After completing her PhD, Kim conducted research at Sony’s Computer Science Laboratories on human computer interfaces. In 2002, she joined the Information and Computer Sciences Department at the University of Hawaii, where she does research on AI, astrobiology, and long duration
human space exploration. She’s joining us from Hawaii this morning, for which we are very grateful. And Dr. Teresa Parr is currently a second year Executive Branch Fellow in the US Agency for
International Development’s Office of Program and Strategic Planning. Dr. Parr is a clinical
psychologist by training. In that capacity, she
has worked in a variety of therapeutic, educational, medical, community and research settings, serving as a therapist, consultant, program manager, researcher, and educator. Throughout her career, she’s focused on how knowledge
from behavior science can be adapted to inform
programs and services in personal community and policy settings. Thank you all for joining us today. And as we all know, today’s chat theme is the
application and interview process. And the first question
I would love to ask you is if you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourselves when you were applying for the fellowship? Anyone want to kick us off? – I’m happy to kick us off. – Please, that sounds great, Janani. – So I think, oh, can you hear me? Can I start? Yeah, I think one advice
I’d probably go back is to think more broadly as to the scope of what science policy is. I think when I was applying, I kind of assumed that there would be a certain niche area for me based on my own research expertise and background and development
in child psychology. So I thought that what drove my placement would be my scientific background, and that ended up not being true at all. The opportunities were a lot broader. So the advice I would give myself is really tap into what my skillset can do more broadly in a science policy realm, and where I could potentially
see myself contributing in many different areas, and not just in a niche of child policy, which is what I assumed I would be doing. And it is ended up being what I was doing. But there was so many
different opportunities that I ended up interviewing with and just completely
blew me out of the water during interview week. So I think I would go back, as I’m preparing my application, think about where could I see myself going the scope of this fellowship. – Yeah, I would certainly agree with that. Another thing that I would suggest is as a mid-career fellow, one of the things that was
most challenging for me in the preparation process was putting my old life behind. So, I came into this thinking that I might be able to continue
to teach a course online or other ways, sort of
continue to do my old job while doing this one. Not a great idea, not a great idea. So, I do recommend to try and find as much as possible a way to put, if you’re only planning
to come for a year or two, find a way to put your old job in a box and put it under the bed and leave it there to take
out again when you get back. – I would echo all the things
that have been said so far, and just add to it that if you have the opportunity or can network to find the opportunity
to talk to somebody who was a previous fellow and get some thoughts about just your application materials
and how to approach it. I think that’s a great idea. And if you can’t find access
to a previous AAAS fellow, maybe consider if you know
anybody in your network who has a policy background and ask them to have a look and chat with you about
how your background might fit in some of those settings. Just to echo something
that was already said, which is that throughout
the application process, I would have suggested
that I think more broadly about what my skillset is. And not so much about my
specific area of research or my specific area of expertise, but really, how that might apply in a specific setting and be used in other capacities to address problems I couldn’t even think of ahead of time. And I guess the other piece, I would say, is when you look at those job descriptions that get put out there after
the application process or you’re thinking about
different agencies, I would’ve said to myself, “Hey, think about those
things more broadly”. They’re not quite what I
thought they were at the time. – I appreciate you all sharing. And I wonder, that’s a great transition to maybe ask about how you went about selecting the program
areas to which you applied, because we offer positions
in executive branch agencies, the judicial branch, and
the legislative branch. And how did you go about selecting where you applied and
customized your applications? – Well, I applied to both
executive and legislative, which I wasn’t qualified for judicial, so. And in the end, I was offered both. I think that obviously you get
a very different experience in a two sides, but
also, within each side. One of my concerns was working on the executive side is frankly political. I came into this because I was concerned about the state of the way science was informing policy or not informing policy, and I wanted to contribute to that. And I was concerned about which side I would be more effective on. In the end though, after having talked to a lot of fellows over the two year experience, I really don’t think the
current political state makes that much difference in which side you go to and which one you end up contributing to. You can really put in your
oar very effectively, I think, on both the executive
and the legislative side. – Yeah, I absolutely agree with that. I mean, so I applied for this… (mumbling) Where what administration
would be working under. But I don’t think these and I applied at the times I
wanted to have a contribution, where I could build something, and build policy or build initiatives and contribute in a longterm way. And I kinda saw this
as a way to think about how I could contribute to policy in the longterm past this fellowship. And that’s what kinda drove
me to the executive branch, to think about how I
can help shape change. And I agree with Kim. It hasn’t really, the changes in the political spectrum has not, to the must part, affected, but I feel like I am contributing to something really important that can have longterm change, no matter what’s happening outside in the more political sides of things. So, that’s what drove me
towards the executive branch, is that longterm impact that I want. – I was thinking about it in terms of what areas where I
thought that my expertise might be useful as well
as what I wanted to learn. I would say, if I could go
back to my previous self, I would say look at it in terms of what I need to learn because
no matter where you are, you’ll be able to contribute. Unless you have a very narrow niche of things that you want to focus on. So I know some people
who wanted to focus on a specific kind of technology development or a specific view like
climate change or something. Well that would help you have an idea of where you might want to go, because in some places, you couldn’t do those other things. I ended up in the programming office, which has been great, because I’m learning all
about things I didn’t know, and that was part of what
drove my ultimate choice, is I could do that. ‘Cause I’m learning
about things like budget, which is unlike everything. That’s a side piece of advice. You start to do the fellowship and you have a way of sort of tracking things through the budget process, I highly recommend that, because it’s really useful to anything you might want to have
an effect on as knowing how the budget process works behind it. – I appreciate hearing all of
those different perspectives around no matter where
you might go as a fellow, you are gonna be able to contribute. You’re going to be able to learn. And we have a question here about outside of the lab and the classroom, what were some of the
things about yourself, your experiences, your skills, that you highlighted in your application that you think made a difference and helped you stand out? – So, I didn’t, I guess I could start. I didn’t have any policy background. One of the things I
had been thinking about in preparing for this that, and I’ve been thinking about
for the last two years, is I wish I had maybe been involved in postdoc association or
grad student association. I wasn’t really involved
in anything like that. But what I did highlight in my application were things that I did extracurricularly. So I spent a lot of time outdoors. I backpack, I’m part of a
lot of outdoor organizations that also deal with conservation. I’ve also done a lot
of outdoor leadership. So I highlighted a lot of that. So, just to kinda show
that I am multifaceted and there a lot of things that drive me, and there’s a reason why I
like being out in nature. I care about environmental policy. And that’s the only kinda
thing I kinda highlighted that was not my specific
research background. But I think one of the
things I tried to do was to show that there are lots of different parts of my life. In addition to what drives me in science, I kinda drive who I am as a person. I don’t know if that made a difference, but that was where I kind of tried to focus not so much my policy background, but instead, my community
engagement background. – Teresa, anything you’d like to add from your perspective? – It’s hard to know
what had a real impact. But I thought that some of the skills that
I now think are useful that I happened to have highlighted might have been a part of that. So for example, I had a lot
of experiencing consulting, which I think is really useful in the government setting because you have to
kinda join with people, find out what they know and
not appear to be a know-it-all, but still find a way to
get across your message. And I hope that that was
useful in my application. It’s certainly useful in my job. – Yeah, I’m not sure what
I put in my application that did the trick. I certainly talked about the range of things that I have interest in. I think that I really emphasized I’ve worked with several agencies, I’ve worked internationally, I’ve worked in industry and academia. Showing, I think, breadth as
much as depth was helpful. I had only dipped my toe into policy, so I did emphasize what I had done. And who knows what helped? I can’t hear Jessica. – I can’t either. – I hope that our audience has some, gets some inspiration from you all to see that you don’t have
to be a science policy expert to apply to this program. In fact, this program is meant to be the deep dive opportunity for scientists, for engineers, to come to Washington DC
and have this experience. Just like you all have done. So, our next question is about how you prepared for your interview. So you applied, you received notification that you were invited to interview. What was the first thing you
did and how did you prepare? – Well, one thing I did is
I re-read my application. It had been awhile and I
wasn’t sure what I had claimed. (laughs) So, that. I did a bit of a deep dive
into the current news, although I don’t think that actually helped me in the interview. But I got to thinking about some current policy
issues that were out there and how I felt about them and what I thought I could offer to them. In terms of practical preparation, I didn’t sit at my breakfast
bar with the fan behind me. I found a neutral conference room and dressed appropriately
for that, unlike today. Those were the main things, I think, that I did to prepare. I got a good night’s
sleep the night before. – I did a lot of similar things as well. I definitely read up on a lot of the latest news and policies and how I wanted to talk about
my own opinions about those. I think a lot of the interview questions ended up being really broad about the way I thought about things, policy related or not, and I practiced a little bit, really thinking through some
of the issues at the time that in the political environment
that were being talked about, just so I could practice my way of speaking about things
and being clear and concise in the best way I could. I had people listen to me. I definitely sat in front of the computer and looked at myself talking, just to make sure I didn’t, I wasn’t too close, too far away, and didn’t make weird faces. So I practiced a little
bit just looking at myself, which is a little bit weird, but I think it helped at the end maybe. – I didn’t do much different
than all those things except with the background
in behavior science, I did look at a few policy issues that were more related to
other kinds of science, in case that’s where their questions went. – I hear some helpful tips and themes in terms of being prepared, practicing, using your support network, as you prepare for those interviews. And that makes me think about all the work that goes into you getting to that interview point. And that includes crafting
your statements of interest as a candidate in the application. I wonder if you can recall, if you could share
maybe how you approached those written statements
and what you included. Kim, would you be able to kick us off? – Sorry, I did actually
miss a little of that. Is this the statement of interest that went in with our application, or our response to the
questions before the interviews? – That’s a good question. Let’s talk about the
statements of interest that are in your application. – Yeah, for that, what can I say? I really just dove in and tried to, I tried to be both broad and specific. So I tried to get away from
my particular research area and talk about policy issues I was interested in as part
of the bigger picture, but I also didn’t want to just say, “I want to save the environment. “I want to make policy better informed.” I tried to find specific issues that I felt I could contribute to that were current concerns. (dog barking) And Cosmo agrees. (laughs) – Teresa, do you remember
what you included in your candidate statement? – Again, because I was
a behavior scientist looking at the questions, I wasn’t 100% sure how to approach them because to me, they read
like they were more geared toward other sciences, and so, I was trying to think about how those things interacted
when I wrote my statements. And so, I did something similar where I tried to stay broad and then give some specific examples of how I felt my expertise
applied to those. – I went slightly different. So I think Teresa and I
have similar backgrounds in behavioral science and psychology, so I kind of picked areas of policy that I felt that I could speak to with my own matter of expertise, and at the time, I was
working on some projects on the neurocognitive development
of academic achievements. So I talked a lot about that work that I was working on and how it might help shape
certain education policies that had been talked about or enacted in the last couple of years, the kind of things that
the new administration was talking about, and I used that as, my background as a way to bridge to how it
could potentially inform the current nature of
education policy at that time. So I kind of kept a little
bit more domain specific to my research background. – And do you remember, I know we encourage applicants when they apply to different program areas, to customize their letters
and their statements to those program areas. Do you recall doing that and what you might have highlighted, say, in the executive branch versus legislative applications? – Well, I certainly tried
to follow that advice. I guess, in the executive branch, I had picked some agencies and offices that I was targeting. And so, in those, so there I focused on what I thought was relevant
to those particular agencies. Now I don’t know if I
was right, to be honest. But that was my approach. And then on the congressional side, I focused more on the issues that were current
in Congress at the time. So I looked at ways that I thought that my expertise could tackle those. – I did the same thing. I assumed that I would be, the best placement for
me would either be NIH, or I actually thought
Department of Education, so I kind of tailored
a lot of what I wrote to the agencies where I felt that my expertise would be most relevant, and that’s how I basically structured a lot of my application. – I cannot add anything
else to what they said. That’s pretty much what I did too. I mean, I did pore over the instructions and the different sample
things that were there, and tried to see how that
applied to my expertise and my background. – It’s good guidance, and we do look for speaking to that opportunity
that you’re applying to. And so, I hope people
take some of your advice. And then there’s a lot
that you as the applicant get to control and write about yourself, your essays, your
extracurriculars, your CV. But an important part of the application is also your references. Could you share how you went about deciding who your references were and maybe how you prepared them to write their letters supporting you? – Sure, I could speak
to that a little bit. I thought carefully about who knew me in what kind of setting that most applied to possible
work in the policies, as well as somebody who I thought had the time or was
otherwise invested in me as sort of a mentor person or something to write a thorough letter. That would ask the person
to do this basically or who’s already written
five letters for you for something else. So I was thoughtful
about all those things. – All my references were my
advisors in graduate school and then my postdoc advisor. They knew me best as a scientist. But I spent a lot of time talking to them. Particularly I was a postdoc back then, so I spent a lot of time
talking to my postdoc advisor. But also, my other referees about what drove me to apply for the fellowship, what I wanted out of it, and really, what my career goals were. It’s a little bit awkward
talking to faculty advisors who are preparing you
for the academic world and then say, “Hey, no, I’m
gonna go do this other thing”. So, I took the time to, my graduate advisors were not there, so I Skyped them, talked
to them about this ship that I was thinking about, and I think that really helped a lot. Just for them to understand
where I was going and why. I got great advice from them as well. So, those conversations really helped me think about, okay,
which one of my advisors really understand the path that I’m putting myself on right now and why I’m doing it. And I drove my choices that way through those conversations. – Yeah, to echo that, again, as a mid-career fellow, I think of the possible
referees within the university, there was a certain amount of skepticism about why I would be doing this thing. And so, I spent some
time talking with them about my motivations and so on. So in the end, of the people
within the university, I picked the folks who were most understanding of this urge to broaden out and to have an effect on policy. And then for outside the university, I picked people who had already
touched policy in some ways. So, they either worked with agencies or something that was a
bit more policy facing, so that they were able to one, understand my motivation, but two, emphasize the
aspects of my experience that would be most useful. – Thank you all. And Kim, I wonder if you
could share a bit more about how you navigated those conversations as you approached your application. It wasn’t just your references. It was, I imagine, other
supporters and people before you moved forward applying and taking this fellowship. – Yeah, it was complicated. It was. So, on the one hand, I suppose I can reveal this
’cause it’s after the fact. Some people needed to be reassured that I would return to the university, and some people needed to be reassured that I was considering doing something completely different
for the rest of my life. So, both things were
true, by the way. (laughs) So there was a bit of that. Persuading my university that this was a valuable step to take. One complication that I had was that I’m currently, and was
at the time as well, principal investigator on
a federally funded grant, which means that there’s
conflicts of interest such that effectively I wasn’t ethically permitted to work on areas directly related to my project. Which is difficult ’cause those are also my areas of expertise obviously. So I had to put a lot into place to make sure that I would be
able to do meaningful work while also staying within those bounds. It just meant a lot of
thinking things through and conversations. – I did also take some
time to make sure that the people I talked to really knew what the fellowship was about and the kind of skills
they would be looking for, and that I was asking
the referees to speak to. Make it easy for them. – I think that’s really good advice. It might be a unique
sort of reference letter that they’re writing for you for this fellowship opportunity. So helping prepare them and understand, not just selecting the right
person to write the letter, but helping guide them in
that process is appreciated. Absolutely. – I would also argue, and I know that this
strategy is maybe not always, is sometimes frowned on, but when I’m asked to write a reference, I do ask people to give me in point form the things that they
would like me to touch on. Not getting them to
write the letter for me, but just so that I am
reminded of the things that are relevant to the position. And I did that as well for my referees. So that they remembered that I’d had this experience and that experience and that I had this
skillset and they could, so that they knew to either touch on that or not in their letter. – That’s a really nice point, that some people may know you from very different spaces and experiences, and to help them understand how together, their letters are going to show you as a whole person in a way that you couldn’t do alone or one
of them couldn’t do alone. So bouncing around a bit, thinking back again to
the interview process, that virtual interview process and the policy memo process, could you share about what
your experiences were like when you knew you were going to get to have that interview and you got that request
to write a policy memo. – So I would like to share, because it was a, it was probably one of the
busiest weeks of my life. Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten
how much time we got. It was a week or two, maybe less. – I believe it might be 10 days. But it is on our website. – Okay. That week anyway was, we were
just launching a mission, and so, I was going 24/7. And I probably, I wrote those memos, I couldn’t have put more than
an hour into each of them. I’m telling you this now because the fellowship is behind me. But I really didn’t have
any more time than that. So I wouldn’t recommend that to anyone. I think you should take
more time and consideration. The other part was picking topics, I found
it was really challenging because one of our instructions was not to pick topics
that we had expertise in. If I recall. And on one of them, I think it was the executive side, I arguably had expertise
in three of the topics. Of course, the ones I
wanted to talk about, which obliged me to go for something that not only did I not have any knowledge of, but I also had very mixed feelings about. So, it was a real challenge, I had to say, to come up with a one page, a one page memo that had any weight to it. But you do your best, and actually, I think the experience of
writing that memo so quickly in an area that I didn’t
have much expertise on, in the end, was probably the part of the application process that related most closely to
what I then spent a year doing. (laughs) Which was doing
really fast turnaround on something I didn’t know much about. So, it was a good practice. – Janani, I see you’re nodding along. Can you share? – Yeah, I agree with all of that. So it was also a kind of busy time for me, but not because of work, but because I had a big family reunion. So I was flying to the middle of Texas. And luckily, I had a friend
who was somewhat nearby, so I had to drive an hour out to her to do this interview. So there was a lot of just logistics. Can I make this happen? The writing process, I absolutely agree, that it was a really great experience. I was extremely freaked out
and scared at the beginning, but my process working
through it was just write. Just start writing. And I think I ended up
with four and a half to five pages worth of material. And then I had something to work with. And then it was starting
to tailor and cut. And the way I kind of, the way I did it even, so I tried to use my own
background in some way to inform the questions
that we were given. So, I did pull a lot from
behavioral psychology. And it just happened to
be potentially relevant to the question that we were asked. So I was able to pull a little bit from the work that I knew that might help explain this policy area in some way. And then once I brought it down to a page and I cut it even more and reorganized, and the way I did it was just put everything in bullets. And that was really good training for, so, I’m a program officer, and that’s what I did my fellowship in. So, I don’t have really
fast turnarounds at all. But I do have people who
want to know the bottom line. And that I think really helped me start to think about, okay, how are people thinking about science? What is really the most
important information they need to know? And I think that’s really, I always think back to that, especially when I first started, as to how to structure
what I tell my leadership about a particular grant or something. So that’s it. – I can’t add much to any of that. That’s pretty much what I did also, is tried to, I mean, it
really is good training for some of the stuff you have to do and the way you have to adjust how you think about things and how you communicate things to make it useful to other people, and how to change your language and make sure there’s no jargon in there, how to simplify it and make it sound as authoritative as it should, but still fit with this sort
of scientific integrity, sort of idea of, okay, this isn’t something we know 100%. The scientist in us, I think, always wants to have, whatever we write, we want to have the section
at the bottom of the paper that says here’s what’s all wrong with it. And that’s not always appropriate for a situation like that. And so, you kinda get to wrestle with some of those issues ahead of time. I did also know somebody who had experience writing policy briefs. And so, I had previously asked them, long before this came up, what are some of the differences between how you write for that and
how you write in this setting. And the tips they had given me at the time were very useful, so. – I think you shared
some really great advice for the audience in terms
of, first, some context. Kim, what you shared, I hadn’t thought it before, which is if you apply
to two program areas, you may be invited to
two virtual interviews and be asked to write two policy memos. So you prepared for that opportunity. And that in all those instances, that it’s really a good
practice experience for what it’s like to be a fellow, no matter where you’re placed, in terms of using some of
these transferable skills you have as scientists to analyze, synthesize,
communicate about information, and perhaps in a new way. I think the committees
would be happy to hear that it was useful and
not just an exercise and stress for you all. Okay, our next question is about, did you have somebody else look at your application
before you submitted it? Was there an outside
perspective or a viewer, a copy editor, who helped
you before you hit Submit? – I definitely have never
turned in an application to anything without
somebody else reading it. And I think that that’s good advice. And just it all depends
on how much time I have who I get to read it. I mean, somebody needs to
read it for punctuation and to make sure it makes sense to somebody who’s not you, and then if you have somebody who’s got specific expertise. I knew a previous fellow, so I definitely asked
them to read it and see if it made sense. – Yeah, I had multiple people. Sorry, go. – Go ahead, go ahead. – Oh, I was just gonna
echo the same thing. I had multiple people
read through it as well. And I had people who knew me. My postdoc advisor read
through a lot of things. My husband read through a bunch of drafts. But then I also had friends who didn’t really know a lot about what I do as a scientist, but they can give me perspective on how I convey myself through and inform. I had them read it as well. So I had multiple
different levels of readers go through my application. – So, I’ll admit that I didn’t really have anyone read my application, but I did, when it came
to the policy briefs, I had long and torturous conversations about topic choice with people. And also with overall
strategy with the memos. And then I did have a
friend read them over for clarity and punctuation
and things like that. Yeah, yeah. – I hope our audience is
hearing loud and clear. It is very okay to have somebody read your materials,
review and support you, and to make that part of your process. So if you think about
submitting before the deadline, working that into your timeline, it makes a lot of sense. I wonder if you all, if we could maybe circle back again to the references. I know we talked a bit about how you selected your
references and prepared them. And Janani, I think you explained your references were all from academia. Kim or Teresa, did you have
any non-academic references? – I have to be honest, I don’t remember for sure
who I asked in the end ’cause I had also applied for a couple of other
fellowships at the same time. But I had somebody who’s been a
mentor for a long time, who started out as an academic mentor, but ended up being a
professional mentor as well over the course of some time. So I had that person. And then I had, definitely had somebody from my academic work as well, who knew me in a variety of settings, so she could speak more
broadly to my experience. – Yeah, I had a combination of academic and non references. I also can’t remember exactly who I asked, but I’m pretty sure I
included people from, I’ve worked with NASA for a long time, and I’ve also worked with
the Canadian Space Agency. So, I, now that I think of it, I definitely asked a person I worked with at the Canadian Space
Agency to write a reference. And again, his focus is more on policy, so he was able to speak to
those aspects of my experience. – Could you share a little bit about how you maybe balanced
requesting references, especially as you had to find other things at the same time. Perhaps needed multiple letters from that. – I mean, it’s just a matter, to me, it was just a matter of
juggling all those things. You don’t want to overburden one person. But if you have somebody who’s answered for similar kinds of positions, I applied for more than
one policy fellowship, so I did ask that person to send a second one because I knew that it would be easy for her to edit. But at the end, I think
it’s, I don’t know, a good practice to juggle what you ask to different people in your networks so you don’t try to sort of
overburden any one person. Unless, I would say, an exception might be if you’re kind of newer out of graduate school. Then your advisors are gonna expect that that’s what you need to do. And that’s part of the bargain they made when they had you become
a graduate student. – I think that’s fair
and good perspective. And I would say even though our application deadline is November 1st, if you select a reference, they could submit their letter anytime. So it’s not to say that they would submit it September 20th, but that it’s a possibility for them. So the sooner you reach out to folks and the more time you give them, the more they’re able to kind of balance the different requests
they might have from you or others to get something in on time. So I wonder if you all could reflect, and maybe Janani, you start. What skills do you wish you had before becoming a fellow? – Yeah. I wish, I guess on, so I can speak to this
from the perspective of being a program officer. What I had to do as a fellow specifically. Which I wish I had a
little bit more experience interacting with different
faculty in my department, but also, different
parts of the university. And this goes back to
something I said earlier, that I wish I had been
a little bit more active in my graduate student
or postdoc association. Right now, I work a lot with investigators and I help make decisions about funding. But I think having been
in academia for that long and having this experience as a student, it could’ve given me greater insight into how all of these
different levels work together. So you’re not just
funding an investigator. You’re funding an institution. So I think for me, just getting to know what kinds of things different faculty members had to do in running their lab, what kinds of considerations, how they worked with different levels of the university politically, how the structure works and processes. I wish I had a little bit
more insight into that. I think right now, I
make a lot of decisions based on science, and I can do that. I have the training for that. I think the skillset
that I really wish I had was to deal with more
of the different layers of the university to
understand how they interact. So yeah, it’s very specific
to what I do in program but that’s the kinda skill I think I came in not really being able, having too much insight into this job. – Teresa? – I would say maybe this
is a little specific to what I wanted to learn, but over the course of my career, I had come to feel that understanding how the money flows back and forth to different places and how that’s used as a part of making and implementing policy, I wish that I had taken
the time to sort of follow a couple of things I was interested in and the budget behind them and how that budgeting process went both through an agency and as it interacts with
the legislative branch. Whether that would’ve been at state level or federal level. It’s a big learning curve if you’re involved with budget and you haven’t had
any experience with it. So for me, that would’ve
been really useful. I expect that would be
pretty useful for anybody. But it is maybe a little specific. But to kind of segue off that, maybe what would be more
useful to people generally, a skillset that I feel that I did have which is a consulting skillset, I found to be really useful. And if I didn’t have experience with that, I definitely would’ve wanted to read about how to be a good consultant. I think that’s very useful here. And what I’ve seen with
some of the other fellows and some of the struggles that they’ve had in a federal agency is kinda not really knowing how to engage people and have built respect for your expertise, but also, show that you respect theirs and you’re not kinda just
plopping in the middle of what they’ve been doing and saying, “Ooh, I’ve got all the shiny answers “and why have you been
doing it the dumb way?” Not that anybody would say that, but you don’t want to come
across that way either. – So, I think my response
is gonna be quite different because of my experience
on the legislative side. So, in academia and research, most of the time when
you talk to people about what they are trying to do, they’re pretty straightforward about it. This is my motivation, here’s
what I’m trying to find out, and here’s what I’m
trying to do to get it. And then you can argue about the details, but everyone’s pretty straightforward. I found myself a lot of
times at the legislative side halfway through a meeting and not knowing why anyone was doing anything that they were doing. The motivations were
completely opaque to me. And I would have to come
out of it and my mentor, who was fantastic, I would say, “What just happened?” And she would explain to me why everyone was doing the
things that they were doing. I got better at that over the year. I kind of wish I’d had more experience in complicated negotiations before. I don’t know how I would’ve
got that experience, but some more of that
kind of that skillset would have been helpful. – I think these are all
really valuable insights, and if any of you have specific resources you would like to share with
anyone listening or after, feel free to send them my way and we can make sure we distribute them in terms of facilitation,
negotiation, consulting, because I’m sure people would be happy to get their hands on those resources. And connected to that question, what was it like day to day
for you in your fellowship, and what were you most prepared for and what were you maybe less prepared for? Kim, do you want to kick us off here? – Well, it was pretty wild. (laughs) I don’t know if there
really was a day to day. One of the things I
hadn’t realized is that Congress has seasons, and each season can be
dramatically different. Appropriation season is very
different from client season, which is very different from when we’re not in session and so on. I mean, my first day of work was the big Kavanaugh hearing. My boss was on the judiciary committee. There was drama. (laughs) So, day to day. So one of the things that was very strikingly different from academia is in academia, it’s all about, it’s not all about you, but it’s very important to
put your name on things, you’re the author on the paper, you’re the scientist doing the work. In Congress, you are anonymous really. You become part, in my case, part of the senator’s brain. Hopefully a high functioning part, but nonetheless, none of the output of the
office is yours in any sense. You hope you can contribute to it. So it’s very, very different in that way. Another thing that’s very different is that it is a nine to five job, or maybe an eight to six job. With both the strengths
and the weaknesses of that. If you show up, you contribute. And then at the end of
the day, you go home. And that was a big
difference from academia and certainly being a PI where it’s kind of 24/7, but at a lower level of intensity, if that makes any sense. Yeah, and then another piece is that you really are almost
constantly talking with people. It is between meetings and
hallway discussions and emails. It is constant communication. So, although there are some things you do need to work on on your own, you get very little time to do that. So you learn to be very, very quick at turning one pagers. Turning one pagers around
at a very high rate. Which again, is very
different from academia, where it’s these long, slow, deep dives. Yeah, I think those are the big ones. There were so many ways that life on the Hill was
different from academic life. But I think those are the main ones. – Janani, can you share next? – Sure, so as I’ve said, I was and now I am a full
time program officer. So, maybe my experience is a little bit different from most of other fellows. And I kind of chose it very specifically because in the realm of
what is science policy, I wanted to stay a little
bit closer to the science than the policy side of it. And that’s what really drove me to this kind of position, where I am every day, for the most part, thinking about the science and reviewing science based
on its scientific merit. And the grants that come to me, I do have scientific background on, so I was able to pull that. So, in terms of what prepared me was my scientific background essentially. So I was able to talk to
a lot of investigators, some of who I already
knew before I came here, and talk to them about their science and critique that science and generate new ideas, help
them generate new ideas, so on and so forth. But what I was least prepared was, is when you’re critiquing scientific idea, there’s nothing, there
shouldn’t be anything subjective about it. But there’s a lot that goes into what makes a grant fundable. And I think on the one side, learning about those other constraints that have nothing to do with science, that have to do with budget, or have to do with
balancing our portfolio, what does that mean to
balance a portfolio? And part of that is having a vision for a whole scientific
field for the next 10 years. So, my graduate training and as a postdoc, you’re very focused on a particular idea, but now I have to bring it up to the 30,000 foot level and think, I cover research and anxiety. Where does anxiety research
need to be in 10 years? So, that was a kind of challenge that I was not as prepared for, but it’s been intellectually stimulating to kind of think about
it much more broadly and to where can I draw the lines and how are these external constraints going to influence in the long term what I am able to fund and
what I’m not able to fund. Those things I was a
little less prepared for, but yeah. It’s been a really, yeah, cool process. Just understanding that
there is a subjectivity to the kinds of scientific
decisions you make, even though you’re making
scientific decisions every single day. That was more challenging
but positive, I guess. – I would, it’s interesting. I don’t know how I would
describe an average day. I would say my experience
talking to other fellows is that everybody’s
experience is very different, and a lot more of it
can be directed by you and the choices that you make and the conversations that you have than maybe you might expect. I would say that there were definitely a lot of days where I was sitting there with a problem on my desk and going, “Do I know anything at all “that could get me started on this?” And then if I don’t, who can I ask or how else might I be able to get started? So for me, it was a big challenge to figure out ways of
addressing problems like that ’cause there isn’t somebody else. In my other life, if somebody or somehow magically something landed on my desk and said,
“Want to do research like this?” I would go, “Well, it
doesn’t fit with my goals “for my research, so no”. But now, stuff shows up on my desk and it’s like, I don’t know,
and there’s nobody else. And so, you’re like,
okay, well how can I know enough to be useful here? Or how can I bring together
the right people to do that? So that’s a pretty big difference. The other thing that
I wasn’t prepared for, maybe this is similar to Kim, is there is a lot of talking. And it’s like, well, how do
you get actual work done? I mean, that is part of the work, but you still need to do
some things at your desk to make all those
meetings and conversations go like they should. And so, that, figuring out
a different way of working was a bit of a challenge, but also super interesting. And then not being, I was, again, mid-career also, and so, not super used
to having a whole day be about things that I really
don’t know anything about. So it’s exciting ’cause it definitely is like drinking from a
fire hose almost every day. But I like it that way. But it’s still a challenge because at the end of five o’clock, if you’re lucky, if you get to go home, and then you’re kinda tired, not because you’re
running around the block, but because your brain
was working so hard. But that could also be
partly my placement. I know people who work on concrete tasks that they’re moving along every day and they’re mostly sitting at their desk. – Yeah, and I can, just to
talk about my day to day ’cause I think mine is more of that, where I have very concrete tasks and it’s basically nine to five. And at five, I can go home, and if I didn’t get to finish something, it can wait a day or
maybe it can wait a week. So there isn’t anything
super rushed really, but then the downside
of that is I sometimes, I found myself working
on those concrete tasks. Each grant has a set of things I have to do for it. And I could spend all day
just working on checklists and documentation and all those things. So, what I learned to do over time was to figure out what are those projects for me to learn about that
30,000 foot level science, the future of the science, how can I contribute to the
priorities of our institute with my own background, and how can I just get myself into these meetings and working groups where they talk about these high level initiatives and priorities. Who do I have to go talk to
to get my voice in there? And figuring out where my voice is actually appropriate. Sometimes it was not at all, even though I got myself
there and I realized I don’t know how I can contribute to this. But I’ll stick around and even then, I will find a way to say something. And I figured out within the first six months to a year that that’s something I had to do or else I would just be doing
the same kind of work every single day, working on these grants, and not really contributing
in a more high level unless I put myself more out there. And that’s something I
really learned to do. – Thank you all for sharing. I’ve really enjoyed this conversation. Hearing about how the experiences, at a senator’s office, at USAID, at the National Institutes of Health, the differences and
some of the similarities in your experiences. And especially some of
the shared experiences as you kind of approached applying and presenting yourself as an applicant in this whole process. And so, I wonder as we, maybe this could be our wrap
up question for the group. I would love to hear, what do you think is the last thing someone should do before they hit Submit on their application? If one thing is too much, you can give me a list of things. But something you think
they should absolutely do before they hit Submit. – I can say something quick. I would say just go ahead. Just hit it. (laughing) If there was one thing I hope
that would be already done, which is definitely if you can, have somebody read it and look for errors. But if you can’t, still,
just go ahead and hit it. – Yeah, I agree. And I think this application process kinda lets you talk about
yourself, who you are, so just as long as you’re sincere with the way you’ve described yourself and why you’re here and
what you want to learn, I think, yeah, hit it. Yeah, let yourself be honest and create that narrative
and then hit the button. You’re good. – I agree. (laughs) – Well, thank you Janani, Teresa, Kim, for joining and sharing
about your experiences. Just a reminder to
everybody who’s listening. The application is open
through November 1st. You can visit the fellowship website for details on the application. And you can also find
recordings of our chats and register for the
next chat in the series. Our final chat will be
Ask a Fellow Anything, taking place on Tuesday, October 8th, from two to three p.m. Eastern Time. Hope you can join us. And if we didn’t get to
answer your question today, if a question comes to
mind after you sign off, please feel free to email the [email protected] email account, and we will get back to you. Okay, thank you everyone for joining, thank you to our panelists, and have a great rest of your day. – Bye. – Bye, everyone.
– Bye.

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