From PhD -> Science Policy

Are you interested in exploring how science can have a real world impact and transform millions of lives across the globe? Do you want to engage with governments and the larger public society to promote scientific research and develop policies that improve overall global health? If you answered yes, then a career in science policy could be your calling.

This past spring, we interviewed Dr. Megan Miller, a program officer and strategic advisor at  United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Before working at USAID, Dr. Miller earned her PhD in Biomedical Sciences from UConn Heath and later completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Yale School of Medicine. After , she was awarded a highly competitive Science and Technology Policy Fellowship (STPF) from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (https://www.aaas.org). The STPF application opens in the Fall semester and closes annually on November 1st every year. To be eligible for the year-long fellowship, candidates must be US citizens  and hold either a doctoral or master’s degree. More information can be found on the program’s website (https://www.aaas.org/programs/science-technology-policy-fellowships). 

Her role at the USAID

USAID is the world’s premier international aid organization and works primarily in 100 low-income countries. With their headquarters in Washington D.C, most employees are stationed at local stations across the world and work their local communities to improve the quality of life through programs that promote agriculture and food security, global health, education, democracy and sanitation. Dr. Miller worked as a Program Director in the Innovation, Technology and Research hub (ITR) which aims to leverage scientific research for improving developmental outcomes. This is achieved by providing research grants and cooperative agreements for capacity building and collaboration between research groups in the US with international programs. This division of USAID is also tasked with providing technical support to various stakeholders such as research groups and universities in low-income communities.

What responsibilities does her job/fellowship entail?

  • Program management- One program Dr. Miller coordinated was the “Accelerating local potential” program which funded 4 grant opportunities(https://www.usaid.gov/research/documents/accelerating-local-potential-alp). The goal of this award is to match American universities with universities in developing countries to promote the exchange of ideas, capacity building and the creation of innovative technologies so they can serve as an innovation hub for their local government. An example of these partnerships include the NEXTi2i accelerator program between spell out university first (MIT) and Ashesi University, a non-profit university in Accra Ghana. The purpose of this partnership is to support Ashesi University alumni who are passionate about entrepreneurship to develop startups that are not only economically profitable but also align with SDGs (sustainable development goals) (https://www.nexti2i.com ). One such startup, Colourful Plastics, was founded by Jennipher Alista Panashe and works on repurposing plastic waste as asphalt for road building to prevent environmental pollution and promote sustainable development. 
  • Technical assistance- She was involved in funding and providing technical support for a research to action plan in the northern Philippines by working with a research team at the Isabela State University (ISU) to develop a method for contact tracing and monitoring tuberculosis infections among children. This project consisted of sampling 800 adults with confirmed tuberculosis cases and 1200 children that were in contact with these adults. Researchers identified that about 800 children (around 66.7% of children that were traced) presented with three or more symptoms associated with tuberculosis (persistent coughing, fever, and chills) and only 11 children (around 9% of children traced) who were taken to the clinic had some education about tuberculosis. what does this mean… The next part of the program involves identifying socioeconomic barriers that impede correct diagnosis of TB in children and implementing new policies for tuberculosis contact tracing at the provincial and national levels in order to improve public health outcomes for children afflicted with tuberculosis who went undetected in most cases.
  • Strategic planning advisory and program design- She also worked as a strategic advisor to the Deputy of Research and helped in generating material for the transition in leadership following the transition of power following the (year) US presidential election. 

Transferable skills from a Biomedical Sciences PhD program to career in Science Policy 

While the job may not entail using the very specialized wet-lab knowledge developed during the course of a science focused PhD program, there are several transferable skills that are gained that can be applied in a science policy career-

  • Critical thinking and problem solving
  • Systematic mindset and approach
  • Ability to organize, analyze and interpret data
  • Ability to collect and integrate information from multiple sources
  • Ability to read and understand large amounts of technical information
  • Teaching and mentorship experience
  • Public speaking experience
  • Working with ambiguity
  • Working with limited resources
  • Technical writing skills
  • Ability to work independently
  • Developing opinions/ positions based on evidence
  • Understanding the scientific methods
  • Ability to identify gaps in knowledge
  • Attention to detail

Resources for other science policy fellowships in the US:

This article was written by Sai Nivedita Krishnan, A Biomedical Sciences Doctoral pre-candidate at the University of Connecticut at the Farmington, CT campus.

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