Where Are They Now?
Science Policy Analyst Jonathan Gitlin Speaks at "Meet the Alumni" Event
By Christine Crane
This month's "Meet the Alumni" event gave Scripps Research Institute graduate students and postdoctoral fellows a chance to chat with Jonathan Gitlin, a former Scripps Research postdoc who is currently science policy analyst at the National Institute of Health's National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI). The informal discussion focused on Gitlin's career path, covering questions such as: What is science policy? What does a science policy analyst do day-to-day? How does one get into the field?
Gitlin, who has a BSc in Pharmacology from King's College, London, and a doctoral degree in Pharmacology from The Imperial College of London School of Medicine, became interested in science policy while working as a science writer for Ars Technica, a publication that provides information technology news, reviews, and analysis. Writing on topics, including problems with scientific training, postdocs who cannot find jobs, and government funding of climate research, sparked a deep-seated interest and passion for science policy.
"A lot of our most interesting and contentious science issues have policy applications," said Gitlin.
What Is a Science Policy Analyst?
While researching this article I searched for a job description for a science policy analyst and found an informative article written by Heather Reiff titled "A Career in Science Policy: Communicating Science to Policy-Makers and Policy to Scientists" . Here Reiff writes her main jobs as a science policy analyst are "to communicate science to policy makers… and to draft policies that impact scientific research… this is done by monitoring legislation… and to inform scientists about the implications of this legislation for their research."
Gitlin wears many of these hats at NHGRI. He has written publications about how science policy affects medicine, for example whether routine screening should be offered on carrier testing for spinal muscular atrophy (J. Gitlin et al., Genetics in Medicine, 12:10, 621-622). He also is involved with coming up with new research ideas by organizing meetings with experts in various fields, monitoring issues in gene patenting, and attending science meetings and writing up their summaries.
In addition, he works on prioritizing programs and preparing a budget for the institute, which receives funding through annual Congressional appropriation.
How to Begin a Career in Science Policy
For those interested in entering the area of science policy, Gitlin suggested several stepping stones—first and foremost, to read.
"Stay abreast of the issues, be interested, know what is going on in D.C., and know how funding decisions get made," said Gitlin. Most importantly, have ideas how to change policy, he advised.
He also suggested writing. Writing is a major component of science policy, he said, so learning how to write in non-scientific language about scientific issues is key to success.
"Start writing a blog," he said. "The barrier to entry is low. Take a science paper you found interesting and try and write it up in a way your parents or grandparents can understand." Write press releases on a freelance basis for your university's communications department, he suggested. "Writing is a skill just like any other, and it is a skill that scientists don't get taught, so practice."
Networking—basically talking to others about their experiences—was another tip. "While networking, be able to explain what you think are important policy issues, what is going on, and be able to offer various other policy options that might work," he said. Gitlin noted Scripps Research has a well-respected program called the Society of Fellows (SOF); during his time at Scripps Research, he was able to organize and attend the "Hill Day for California Scientists" in Washington, D.C., through the SOF.
Finally, if you are interested in a career in science policy, aim for a policy-related job, internship, or fellowship, he advised. The traditional route into field is through a science policy fellowship, such as an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) science policy fellowship (highly competitive and the gold standard, according to Gitlin), a California Science and Technology Policy Fellowship, a National Academy of Sciences Christine Mirzayan Science & Technology Policy Graduate Fellowship, an NHGRI science policy fellowship, or a similar opportunity abroad.
This event was sponsored by the Network for Women in Science (NWiS) and the Career and Postdoctoral Services Office. For more information about the "Meet the Alumni" series and upcoming career-related events, contact Ryan Wheeler, firstname.lastname@example.org or x4-7297, or visit the Career and Postdoctoral Services webpage.
Send comments to: mikaono[at]scripps.edu
The informal discussion focused on former Scripps Research postdoctoral
fellow Jonathan Gitlin's career path, covering questions such as: What is
science policy? What does a science policy analyst do day-to-day? How does
one get into the field? (Photo by Cindy Brauer.)