In reflecting about my foray into the field of science policy, two trends in the global context stand out to me. First, the shifting employment landscape for PhDs in the sciences (chemistry, in my case), towards “alternative career paths” beyond academia and R&D in the private sector (elaborated in several reports, including the 2021 Degrees of Success report by the Council of Canadian Academies [1]); and second the growing recognition of the value of bringing scientists into policy making in the public and not-for-profit sectors. In the last decade alone, several governments and international organizations have launched science policy fellowships to engage early career researchers to drive evidence-based decision making, many inspired by the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowships (1973) [2]. Some recent examples include the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Science and Technology Fellowship (2014) [3], the Mitacs Canadian Science Policy Fellowship (CSPF, 2016) [4], the DST Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy Fellowships in India (DST-STIP, 2016) [5], the Parliamentary Academic Fellowship Scheme of the United Kingdom Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST, 2016) [6], the Australian Science Policy Fellowship Program (2018) [7], the Africa Science Policy Fellowship (2019) [8], and the Science, Technology, Policy Fellowship Program of the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (STeP-IAI, 2020) [9]. 

In the context of this external push and pull, my own interest in science policy developed during my PhD years at the University of Maryland, College Park. As a student leader in the Chemistry Department, I collaborated with fellow classmates to convince our administration to provide greater support to PhD students for job transitions to diverse career paths. This early attempt at driving policy change [10] within the university ecosystem helped me recognize where my own values, interests, and skills lay. As I began pursuing career options in this field, I was also simultaneously planning to move to Toronto, Canada. A former volunteer told me about the Canadian Science Policy Conference, and a few minutes on their website told me I had to be a part of it! I joined my first virtual meeting as a volunteer for the CSPC 2019 Editorial Committee, during my lunch break in the lab of a biotech startup company in Maryland, USA.

     Even before physically moving to Toronto, I felt welcomed into a community of highly motivated graduate students and professionals from a variety of cultural backgrounds, pursuing diverse career paths in science, who came together from all over Canada (and USA) to build the Canadian Science Policy Conference each year! In a period of five months, I found myself working enthusiastically on three different committees. On the Editorial Committee, we were preparing to launch the first ever Canadian Science Policy Magazine, the third edition of which I now have the pleasure of contributing to! On the Grants Committee, we were applying our grant-writing skills from academia to make a case for funding a platform for scientists, policymakers, students, and science policy enthusiasts from a variety of disciplines to come together and debate, discuss and distill ideas to benefit Canada. On the Conference Program Committee, I had the opportunity to shape the conference agenda and work with esteemed panelists to deliver a symposium on “Acting for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Canadian Science and Research.” I was therefore delighted when CSPC invited me to work full-time for them as Program Manager, with the opportunity to engage with all nine volunteer committees and pilot new programs for the Centre! CSPC 2019 was a memorable experience, and I couldn’t decide if I was more excited to meet my friends, who I had been meeting (virtually) weekly for the past several months, or to watch the biggest names in Canadian science policy; politicians, leaders, Nobel laureates present their ideas. It was at this conference that I first met the Mitacs Canadian Science Policy Fellows (CSPFs) and felt inspired to apply to this program. In 2020, I joined the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada as a CSPF and have since been working on international and policy priorities for supporting Canadian researchers. It brings me immense satisfaction to apply my scientific training and international experience to my work each day, working alongside talented and motivated colleagues in the public service! I continue to remain engaged with CSPC as the co-chair of the CSPC 2020 and 2021 Evaluation & Reports Committee and am helping build science policy capacity in the Americas as a STeP-IAI fellow. At CSPC 2021 SteP-IAI fellows including myself and our mentors, will present an interactive session titled “Beyond boundaries: Building science diplomacy capacities and a transdisciplinary network of early career researchers across the Americas” [11]. 

In a world scarred by the pandemic and various slow burning issues rooted in science, the importance of science policy and evidence-based decision making cannot be overstated. CSPC has been my gateway into Canadian science policy, finding a community of like-minded people with diverse experiences, and a place to do meaningful work to push the boundaries in the field of science policy in Canada. My experience is just one of many that shows that this Centre attracts and brings together much more than the expert speakers at its annual conference; it assembles Canada’s next generation of leaders in science policy.

References:

  1. Council of Canadian Academies, “Degrees of Success.” Published 26 January 2021 at https://cca-reports.ca/reports/the-labour-market-transition-of-phd-graduates/
  2. American Association for the Advancement of Science, “Science Technology Policy Fellowships.” Published at https://www.aaas.org/programs/science-technology-policy-fellowships/overview
  3. Association of Southeast Asian Nations, “ASEAN Science and Technology Fellowship.” Published at https://www.aseanfoundation.org/asean_science_and_technology_fellowship
  4. Mitacs, “Canadian Science Policy Fellowship.” Published at https://www.mitacs.ca/en/programs/policy-fellowship/program-details
  5. DST Centre for Policy Research, “DST Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy Fellowship Programme.” Published at https://dstcpriisc.org/about-us-2/dst-sti-policy-fellowship/
  6. United Kingdom Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, “Parliamentary Academy Fellowship Scheme.” Published at https://www.parliament.uk/get-involved/research-impact-at-the-uk-parliament/academic-fellowships/
  7. Australian Office of the Chief Scientist “Australian Science Policy Fellowship Program.” Published at https://www.chiefscientist.gov.au/australian-science-policy-fellowship-program
  8. InterAcademy Partnership, “Africa Science Policy Fellowship.” Published at https://www.interacademies.org/node/53388
  9. Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research, “Science, Technology, Policy Fellowship Program.” Published at https://www.iai.int/en/step
  10. Ritchie, T. S.; Perez Cardenas, M. T.; Ganapati, S. Establishment and Implementation of a Peer-Supported Professional-Development Initiative by Doctoral Students, for Doctoral Students. J. Chem. Educ. 2018, 95(11), 1947-1953. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.jchemed.8b00337
  11. Canadian Science Policy Conference 2021, “Beyond boundaries: Building science diplomacy capacities and a transdisciplinary network of early career researchers across the Americas.” Published at https://csps2021.sched.com/event/mPN3