Balancing Science Policy Interests with Lab Work: Is it Possible?
During SfN’s Careers in Science Policy webinar, neuroscientists who work in policy roles for the government and a consulting firm explained how they made time for exploring science policy interests during training. Specifically, they offer ways you can balance science policy writing with heavy lab demands, based on what worked for them.
Thomas Crockett: Lab work is going to take up an enormous majority of your time. That’s just a reality of graduate school. Generally, I found time during experimental recordings, or when I would start a protocol and there would be a five-minute break where I didn’t need to do anything but couldn’t leave. I’d pull up the Washington Post, or I’d read a science blog, or I’d look at Twitter. Then, I’d carve out time to do my writing later. Nobody in graduate school has illusions of being able to have a 40-hour workweek. So, if having only five hours (or whatever amount) of policy work a week is all you can afford, then that’s all you can afford. Just try to accomplish the most you can with that.
Megan Anderson Brooks: I have a similar story. I had to try to fit in writing where I could. It depends on how much time you can — or are willing to — devote away from the lab. If you think science policy might be something you want to do, it’s critical to have a conversation with your mentor and/or program director about where you see your career going so that everyone can be on the same page about what’s best for you to get you where you need to be. Materials that you can find on SfN.org and Neuronline can be so helpful because you can take them to your program director and say, “These are some of the people who have gotten to where they want to be, and this is what they’re saying I need to do to be successful.”
One more note to mention: It’s not a waste of time from your PI’s perspective, either, because everyone needs to write, and often they’re reporting back what they’ve accomplished with grant money maybe with some community feedback. I worked with my PI to see how we could use the areas I was interested in to disseminate our research, and policy about the research, to the public as a way to reach out to the community.
This Q&A is adapted from SfN’s webinar, Careers in Science Policy, which is available for members to watch on-demand.