Jefferson Science Fellowships at the US Department of State

R. J. (Jerry) Peterson

Because of the importance of science in modern governance, a number of connections have evolved. A recent one, of great prestige and leverage, is the Jefferson Science Fellows (JSF) program at the US Department of State. Members of the Forum may be very well suited and interested in making applications.

The JSF program was announced by Secretary of State Powell in October of 2003, as designed by George Atkinson, then Science Advisor to the Secretary. JSF Fellows work together with the Science Advisor, currently Dr. Frances Colon, through the Office of the Science and Technology Advisor (STAS). The stated goal of the JSF program is to serve as an integrative model for engaging the American academic science and engineering communities in US foreign policy.

The JSF program is open to tenured US citizens from eligible US institutions of higher learning. Each Fellow will spend one (academic) year in residence at State or the US Agency for International Development (USAID). After the year in residence, each fellow is expected to remain available for consultation on short-term projects for several years.

The program is administered by the National Academies, who oversee the selection process. Applications typically close each year in mid January, so this newsletter can allow ample time to plan for the 2016 competition. Criteria include experience and stature in the community, ability to understand new and changing advancements both within and beyond specific expertise, and interest and experience in policy matters. In addition, it is hoped that Fellows returning to their institutions will have a lasting effect on coming generations. Each application requires a well-written Statement of Interest and essays on the impacts, present and anticipated, of science, technology and engineering on U. S. foreign policy. These materials are evaluated with respect to both the scientific attributes of the applicant, and the ability to communicate. Strong letters of recommendation from high levels are expected.

After mail reviews, finalists are invited to DC for panel reviews. The home institutions of the applicants are required to sign a memorandum of understanding, the critical component of which is full salary support for the academic year. Washington is an expensive town, so Fellows also receive significant financial support beyond their home salary. Fellows must also be able to hold a suitable security clearance.

A valuable orientation begins the year at State, while the Fellows shop around for the best home among the wide range of opportunities at State. The STAS office is very helpful in this search. Duties of the fellow vary widely with position. I worked as a Senior Science Analyst (that’s what the sign on my door said) in the Office of Economic Analysis, under the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. I was the first JSF in that Office, but I have been followed by others, mostly physicists. For a full list of Fellows see the National Academies website. You are likely to see names you know.

Work within State is not much like that at your campus — this is no ivory tower.  Often, security concerns limit the free discussion of issues. This results in a ‘stovepipe’ atmosphere, with communication only upwards and only through your Bureau. Feedback from the top is rare, and it may be difficult to see specific effects of your work. When you do see good ideas realized, the downwards causality may be hard to trace. The Department of State is a large and venerable institution, with deeply entrenched habits and traditions.

In spite of this lack of recognition from the top, your efforts will be deeply appreciated at least in the office you find yourself in. You are more than free labor; you bring new ideas and views to the bureaucracy. They are very good at what they do, but new ideas may be scarce, especially in the rapidly changing world of science, technology, and engineering.

My year in State and the five years after, with several briefings or reports per year, were enormously satisfying, and other members of the Forum should examine the opportunity closely and consider applications to the Jefferson Science Fellows program. Feel free to contact me for specific advice —

Professor R. J. (Jerry) Peterson, JSF class of 2007-2008, is in the Department of Physics at the University of Colorado Boulder. Peterson specializes in studying reactions induced by intermediate and high energy protons and pions.

Disclaimer - The articles and opinion pieces found in this issue of the APS Forum on International Physics Newsletter are not peer refereed and represent solely the views of the authors and not necessarily the views of the APS.