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Science Careers Blog

December 22, 2009

Aunt Hillary Needs You

Nina Federoff, the science and technology adviser to the Secretary of State, recently made a pitch for scientists to serve in the State Department, telling how scientists can serve as diplomats without venturing too far from their research specialties. She was speaking at the Science and Technology Policy Leadership Seminar, put on by AAAS, publisher of Science Careers, held 16-20 November in Washington, DC.

Federoff said partnerships between science and U.S. diplomacy began during the Cold War and focused largely on weapons matters. But since then, science-diplomacy collaborations have broadened to cover issues such as climate change and economic development, where the expertise of scientists is needed to develop, conduct, and explain complex policies.

Most people interested in a diplomatic career in the State Department would need to go through the Foreign Service Officer (FSO) selection process, which includes a written examination followed by a personal narrative essay, and group-skills assessment. As Federoff noted, however, scientists have other ways of working with the State Department for short periods of time without going through the FSO process.

One approach Federoff mentioned is the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowships program, which includes a track for diplomacy, security, and development. Fellows serve for 1 year in a professional position at State or in other foreign-affairs or national security agencies. Applicants must have completed their doctorates and be U.S. citizens; dual-citizenship is OK.  They can be at any career stage. The 2010 call for applicants has closed, but watch for the next call next fall.

Another route to State that Federoff mentioned is the Jefferson Science Fellowship program, which is offered by the National Academies. Jefferson Fellows, too, serve 1-year assignments, either in the State Department or the Agency for International Development, and must be U.S. citizens. However, this program is open to tenured faculty only. Jefferson Fellows agree to be available for short-term projects for five years following the fellowship period. The deadline for applications to the next class of Jefferson Fellows is 15 January 2010.

Disclosure: Alan Kotok serves on the selection panel for AAAS Diplomacy, Security, and Development Fellows.

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