New cohort of Science Policy Fellows take on positions in the Public Service

Monday, 09 August 2021
  • News

This year's Science Policy Fellows hear from Dr Cathy Foley in an online forum.

A new cohort of Science Policy Fellows has been inducted into the Australian Public Service under a pathway program for scientists to become policy officers.

Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Cathy Foley, has welcomed the fellows, telling them they bring expertise, transferable skills and a fresh perspective that will be valuable to the government departments and agencies where they have been placed.

No matter what the discipline, completing a PhD gives researchers great skills in pushing through difficult questions and roadblocks, coming up with new solutions and working to a fine level of detail, according to Dr Foley.

“Your training and skills as research scientists means you can ask the hard questions when it matters the most to ensure that evidence-based advice is being fed into the policy development process,” she told the fellows.

The Science Policy Fellowship program is run by the Office of the Chief Scientist. It was made a permanent feature of the Public Service this year after a three-year pilot.

This year, the 15 early and mid-career researchers have been appointed to a broad range of roles across the Public Service, including in areas related to medical devices, international climate policy, offshore resources, plant systems and strategies, budget estimates, climate adaptation, critical minerals, science policy, and infrastructure. Their PhDs are in disciplines such as physics, chemistry, microbiology, oceanography, physiology and ecology, among other areas.

Their government roles are not intended to be specific to their science speciality, but are in policy, drawing on their broad skills.

Science Policy Fellow Jyah Strachan said he was keen to get a broader perspective on the science translation process, and a deeper understanding of what scientists could contribute to the policy making process.

“I was also excited by the opportunity to contribute to improving the scientific literacy of the public service and advocate for the inclusion of evidence-based policy in government decision making,” he said.

With a PhD in chemistry, Dr Strachan is now working in the Critical Minerals Facilitation Office of the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources.

The experience of the first few weeks had been “overwhelmingly positive”, he said.

“I do miss my coat, goggles, and the whirr of instruments in the laboratory, but the shift into my host office has been smooth. The public servants that I have interacted with have all been equally as brilliant and committed as those in academia and the work has been meaningful.”

The fellows began work after a two-day induction in July, where they heard from previous fellows and from Public Service leaders about what to expect as they shift from academia to government.

This means becoming familiar with the machinery of government, the processes for developing and preparing policy advice, working with a Minister, the regular cycles of government work, and some of the arcane terminology and acronyms that become second nature to public servants but can feel mysterious to newcomers.

Dr Foley shared her own experience of how to make the most of a new career, including the need to develop broad networks and look for mentors and sponsors. Research on women’s careers suggests that finding sponsors – people who support and promote your work – is important to help women progress and seek high-visibility roles.

She encouraged the fellows to keeping seeking out opportunities in the Public Service and in the publicly funded research agencies.

Launched in July 2018, the Science Policy Fellowship program has placed 46 fellows across Commonwealth departments. Most fellows have moved into permanent positions.

Last updated: Tuesday, 10 August 2021