What skills do you need to be a scientist in policy?

There are many seminars at the University of Washington on topics related to FOSEP, which we try to keep up with on our calendar.

This week I heard a talk by Steve Froggett, PhD, at the Bioscience Career Seminar.  Dr. Froggett received his PhD from UMass Amherst in neuroscience and is now a scientific advisor in the Foreign Agricultural Service, which is part of the US Department of Agriculture.  The Foreign Agricultural Service works to promote the export of US agricultural products.  Dr. Froggett has done work to open markets to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and has also been involved in drafting trade policy on nanotechnology. 

Agricultural trade might seem a far cry from neuroscience, but Dr. Froggett emphasized that the skills obtained during a PhD go beyond just  experimental techniques.  A PhD trains you to learn information quickly and deeply and use that information to draw conclusions.  People saw the title “scientist” and expected him to be an expert on things he was unfamiliar with.  He had to independently learn about widely varying topics. 

Dr. Froggett also emphasized the importance of communication (seems to be a running theme in the blog).  Dr. Froggett described how he might have an hour to give a presentation to policymakers on a particular scientific issue they had never heard of.  They would ask questions for maybe 30 minutes, then use that information to form a policy.  It is essential that the scientific ideas are presented in a way the audience can understand so they can use the information to form an appropriate policy. 

So the next time you ask yourself, ‘what am I going to do with this PhD?’ think about your non-technical skills too.