Season 1 Episode 8

Listen to the episode here!

Jackie Ward, Ph.D. coordinates strategic initiatives related to research on neurological disorders and stroke at NIH. As the Chief of Staff at the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), Jackie provides support to the NINDS Director—managing communications, supervising funded projects, and programming cross-institute initiatives.

After becoming frustrated with the fact that her bike commute during graduate school was only equipped with bike lanes in the nicer neighborhood closer to campus, Jackie found herself volunteering to sit on the San Diego Bicycle Advisory Committee. Combined with her interest in policy issues in biomedical research, her time advocating for bike lanes inspired her to pursue a career that merged her passions for problem-solving in science and policy. She applied to the prestigious AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowship and she hasn’t left Washington DC since.

In the first season finale of Translate Your Training, Jackie tells us how she went from the lab to the nation’s capital. We learn what science policy is, and how a fellowship in the field can prepare you to work in various parts of government. At the end of the episode, Jackie emphasizes the importance of finding opportunities you enjoy away from the lab that can help you stand out.

Main points and take-aways from this episode:

  • As Chief of Staff to the director of the NINDS, Jackie splits her time between managing the director’s communications, working with others in NINDS to coordinate projects being funded by her institution, and managing new projects that span beyond her own institution like a long-term COVID project.
  • Depending on whether you like diversity in your job duties or a stable job description, the fact that everyday is different as the Chief of Staff to the director of the NINDS can either be a pro or a con.
  • The nature of Jackie’s position places her at a level where rather than being the expert on one topic, she is knowledgeable about many topics that happen within her institution. For some, not being the expert on a certain topic may be a con.
  • As Chief of Staff, Jackie’s position is inherently more reactive than proactive. This can be frustrating for those that prefer to plan ahead in their jobs. 
  • Being a generalist like Jackie gives you the ability to broaden your network within government and talk to more people in and around your institution.
  • The AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowship is a great way to get into the field of science policy. The bulk of fellows are matched within the executive branch. A smaller portion of fellows are matched within congress and the judicial branch. 
  • Science policy can mean science for policy or policy for science.
  • Pursue interests that are not directly tied to what you’re doing in the lab. For Jackie, that meant sitting on her city’s committee on alternative transportation to try to add bike lanes to her neighborhood.
  • The communication skills you learn as a scientist—both the technical writing of manuscripts and the concise communication from giving presentations—are invaluable for working in science policy.
  • When applying for positions where other PhDs make up the applicant pool, you need to set yourself apart by highlighting your experiences outside of the lab.
  • There are so many different paths to get to science policy. Pick something you enjoy and stick with it.
  • For graduate students who feel stuck, know that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

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