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URMC / Education / Graduate Education / URBest Blog / April 2019 / Sharpening your skillsets for a successful career in science policy: How I moved from the bench to i

Sharpening your skillsets for a successful career in science policy: How I moved from the bench to impact health and medicine in a different way, and you can too.

By Sarah Beachy, PhD, Roundtable and Forum Director at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (and previous AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow)

I always thought I would be a scientist, an investigator, a researcher, and a mentor. Now I am also a communicator, convener, facilitator, writer, problem-solver, team-builder, project manager, fund-raiser, and negotiator…but how did I get here? And how can you too?

While I was finishing up my Ph.D. in biophysics, I began considering what my next career step might be. Moving to the Washington DC area to work as a postdoc at the National Institutes of Health became my focus after discussing possible options with my advisor and other mentors. I found a position in the genetics branch at the NCI that offered an opportunity to complement the work I had completed in graduate school and so I embraced it. It was a logical next step. About two to three years into that position, I began attending seminars offered at the NIH on career paths in academia, industry, policy, and other areas. I was fascinated by the options and intrigued by the scientists I met there who had forged various paths to careers they loved in science policy.

After some planning, I completed my experiments, submitted a paper, and with the support of my postdoc advisor, I left the lab bench for three months to test the policy waters at the National Academies through their Christine Mirzayan Science and Technology Policy Graduate Fellowship. It offered an introduction to the application of scientific skillsets that I had not seriously considered before. After those three months, I was hooked, and I knew that a career transition was in store for me. I went back to the lab, finished up my work, and later that next summer began a longer-term policy opportunity as a AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow at the State Department. This experience offered an inside view of how different branches of government use science and scientists to inform decision-making and policies At this point in my career, I knew I had traded my lab coat for a suit coat and any concerns that I had about leaving a traditional science path were behind me too.

Around that time, I heard the president of the Institute of Medicine give a talk and state that he had the best job in the world – to seek and report the truth – a paraphrasing of an Albert Einstein quote that can be found etched on one of our buildings. That was a broader mission that I wanted to be a part of and one of the reasons I took a position with the IOM. Now I direct the Roundtable on Genomics and Precision Health and the Forum on Regenerative Medicine at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in roles that allow me to continually learn about the fields, understand challenges that are faced by stakeholders, and to help move the needle by shedding light on critical science and policy issues.

Please join me April 2 (11 am – noon) in the Natapow Conference room (1-9545) to learn more about my career story. . If interested in staying longer for a lunch conversation, RSVP to and she can put you on the lunch list. You might also want to browse the document Ways We Answer the Nation’s Most Pressing Health Questions to give you some more ideas of the work that goes on at Institute of Medicine of the National Academies.

Tracey Baas | 3/26/2019

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