Thursday, July 2, 2009


Ok, I was asked again, so I will try to write it out and explain what I’m doing in Washington, again. But I won’t put the links this time.

There are 30 U.S. scientific organizations that have been given the power by the government to appoint 1 or 2 science advisors to U.S. senators/representatives (Congressmen). This, of course, is in the legislative branch, and these appointments are called Congressional Fellowships for a period of one year. Each science advisor would be on the staff of a Congressman as the science advisor to that senator or rep. Each scientific organization is specific, i.e. GSA-Geological Society of American, OIA - Optical Institute of America, APS - American Physics Society, etc. One of the 30 is the AAAS--American Association for the Advancement of Science. This is an umbrella organization as it contains scientists of all types and is the largest science organization in the world. In addition to 1 or 2 Congressional Fellowships, they also offer 15-25 science policy fellowships in the executive branch (under the president) of government in 4 different areas—National Defense and Global Security [NDGS] (Dept of Defense, FBI, Homeland Security, etc.), Diplomacy (USAID, Dept of State, etc.), energy/environment/natural resources [EENR] (EPA, Dept of Energy, etc.), and health/human services. These fellowships are also for one year but instead are in the executive branch and there are more appointments in each of the 4. I applied with the AAAS (I applied for a few others but didn't get those) for defense and diplomacy as you are only allowed to apply for two. In Round 1 they shortlist the candidates (quarter-finalists). In Round 2, still looking at the same applications, they shortlist again. This new list of names is called the semi-finalists list, and the semi-finalists are flown for interviews in D.C. (Round 3). From this pool AAAS chooses who they want to work in government; Over 50% of the semifinalists in Round 3 go are chosen and become finalists. The problem now, of course, is that they've (we've) been chosen by AAAS but we still have not been chosen by the government directly and we've still no exact, particular placement within government (I gave examples of executive branch agencies in the four areas). So Round 4 is a week's worth of interviewing at different agencies within your area to find a placement.

They always say that it is not definite and subject to availability of funding and finding a placement. In other words, the number of finalists that AAAS has chosen doesn't always match the number of possible spots the government has in that area. Additionally, AAAS does not fund the executive branch fellows (non-Congressional fellows). The funding comes from the government agencies directly. So for me to get the job, I must find an agency that both wants me above others and has the money for me. Though, in the area of Defense for the past 5 years, all finalists have been able to take an appointment if they chose to take one (though not necessarily their first choice). This happened due to a merger of offers from the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). So though everyone who wanted a NDGS appointment could have one, this year is different. There are considerably less openings in science defense policy for AAAS NDGS finalists. The CIA and NSA don’t offer positions. The FBI, who usually offers positions, is not offering positions this year (this is the change). This leaves only the DoD, DHS, and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) at the Department of Energy (DoE). Should all 13 of us want placement in defense we would not get it. Why wouldn't all of us want placement in defense if we're interviewing? Well, some of the defense fellow finalists are also finalists in another area, so if some of them take a placement in another area it will ease the competition a bit. As it stands, who knows? I just know now that there are not enough placement spots for us all. AAAS is working hard to get the government to offer a few more, but it still will be short. So we will see. I should definitely pursue other job opportunities even as I go for this final round of interviews!

The Associate Director of the entire AAAS program has encouraged fellows who are finalists in two areas (including NDGS) to consider taking the other area if they offered a job or in deciding before an offer comes. This would ease the competition and be more secure for that person. NDGS is the smallest area of the four offering the least placements. The Associate Director does hope to add one or two more placements before Placement Week (the interview week) begins on the 20th of April. We shall see.

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