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Science and Public Policy

A top-down photograph shows a judge’s wooden gavel lying on top of a court record-keeping book.
Wikimedia Commons.
The world of research is very large and complex; there are many career paths related to research that you may not have thought of. Many of these paths support the research in integral ways and play a key role in determining what research is performed and how we use the findings of research. We will consider a few examples.

Program Officer

Scientific research requires funding. The funds come from a variety of sources, including the government, corporations, and private foundations — one of the many intersections of science and public policy. Program officers at all of these organizations manage the allocation of funds, which includes answering questions from grant applicants and managing the grant application review process. Some program officers report that one of the favorite things about their job is that they still have access to the excitement of being on the cutting edge of research, even though they are no longer working at the lab bench.

Patent Attorney

Patent attorneys are an essential part of the process of transforming new discoveries into products. Scientific findings are often followed by requests for patent protection to ensure that the scientists are given the proper credit for making a discovery and have the right to profit from that discovery. Patent attorneys ensure that the patent filing process and any agreements made to develop or market the discovery are negotiated well and written accurately from a legal point of view. Patent attorneys often are excited by their work because they become knowledgeable about new discoveries and products.

Careers in Public Policy

Because scientific findings can be complex, it can be difficult to decide the best way for society to use the information to improve our quality of life. Scientists who work at the intersection of research and public policy can help politicians and the general public understand research results in order to formulate thoughtful public policy. Scientists in the public policy field can work for congressional or other government branches to help translate and interpret scientific results. They can also work in non-governmental organizations (NGOs), non-profit think tanks, trade organizations, and institutions such as the National Academies of Science. The work can be incredibly rewarding; imagine seeing your efforts influence policies in your country.


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