A few days after I read the story in Madeleine Albright’s book, I had lunch with a friend and I mentioned that I had started to toy with the idea of doing a fellowship. I wasn’t at all sure about the logistics, but my wise friend announced, “Apply first! Then figure out if you want to do it!” I told her she gave excellent advice. She asked, “Don’t you tell you students to do that?” I replied, “Yes, but I didn’t think of it myself.”
Once the idea fermented in my mind for a while, I decided indeed to move forward with applications for fellowships. The next question was to decide on what variety of fellowship to explore, and networking was key to the next step. My network connections helped me learn about two different types of opportunities that I thought would be right for me. I applied for both types. When my Beloved Husband asked which one I was hoping to get, I explained that it depended which one I was working on at any given moment. I had a love affair with each one.
The first time was Executive Branch Fellowships that would have placed me in a Federal Agency such as the Department of Energy, the EPA or the Department of State. These are one year fellowships that are often renewed for a second year. The three largest programs are in the areas of Energy/Environment/Agriculture, Diplomacy/Security/Development, and Health/Human Services. I applied to the first two areas, got interviews in both, and made it to the final stages in the DSD group. At this point, I had visions of my flying to exotic countries and bringing the blessings of science or clean water to cultures. Ah the stamps I could get in my passport!
Meanwhile, there are also Congressional Fellowships. These are fellowships that are sponsored by various scientific organizations with the intent of providing one or two scientists to be Congressional staffers for a year. Because we are free to Congress, we are quite sought-after, and this is exclusively a one year stint. I applied to the program at the American Chemical Society and before I could do the placement for the DSD Executive branch fellowships, I was offerred one of the two ACS fellowships.
What followed was a considerable amount of soul-searching and discussion with my Beloved Husband about what might be the best option. I had been shying away from the Congressional Fellowships because they are known to be longer and more erratic hours and be higher pressure than the Executive Branch Fellowships. Eventually though, I decided to set aside my fantasy of jet-setting international science diplomacy in favor of focusing on our own American government and how it functions. There may be some other opportunity for an Executive Branch fellowship at another time, but it seemed best to do the Congressional Fellowship while I’m still young enough and crazy enough to make it work.
For others who might be interested in something similar, the Congressional Fellowships are not just the physical sciences. My cohort includes engineers, veterinarians, psychologists, sociologists, and a nutritionist. The Executive branch fellows who are going through most of the same orientation with me not only extend to the social sciences, but also include several people representing the arts and humanities, so there are opportunities for people from all sorts of fields. This website has a pretty comprehensive list of all kinds of DC fellowships as well: http://hobnobblog.com/congress-by-the-numbers/congressional-fellowships-and-internships/