On October 16, 2017, 31 Humanities and Social Sciences students and 39 STEM students joined Beyond Academia to learn about public sector fellowships for PhDs. Beyond Academia is a campus group founded and run by UC Berkeley graduate students and postdocs. The organization presented a panel of four PhDs who received public sector postdoctoral fellowships. The panel was followed by detailed workshops on the application process.
Moderated by John Paulas, Director of Fellowships and Special Projects at the Townsend Center for the Humanities, speakers were:
- Nilofar Gardezi (Ph.D. in English), working as Program Impact Analyst at the Bay Area Video Coalition;
- Jon VanLeeuwen (Ph.D. in Neuroscience), working at the US Department of Veterans Affairs;
- Kristin Warren (Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering), working at the California Legislative Black Caucus
- Allison Kunerth (Ph.D. in Public Health), working at the San Francisco VA Medical Center.
The panelists are all recipients of prestigious postdoctoral fellowships: the Mellon/ACLS Public Fellows program, the American Association for the Advancement of Science Policy Fellowship, the California Council of Science and Technology Policy Fellowships, and the Presidential Management Fellows Program.
All four speakers emphasized the importance of interpersonal and communication skills for working in the public sector. As Jon VanLeeuwen put it, “Information is often stored in people.” According to the panelists, for jobs in policy, even those that require advanced technical skills, communication and long-term relationship-building are just as important as the quality of the research. On the other hand, Nilofar Gardezi commented that, while she started her position without any “hard” technical skills, she has returned to Berkeley as an alumna to take free classes at the D-Lab, acquiring skills in Excel, Tableau, and survey methodology. Gardezi also said that workshops she took as a student at the GSI Teaching and Resource Center taught her evaluation and assessment skills that have proved useful in her job.
The panelists agreed that working in public policy, though it entails some culture shock, can be a viable and engaging career path for PhDs from a variety of disciplines.
Deadlines for the four fellowship programs vary; for more information, see the programs’ websites, or join Beyond Academia for next year’s Public Sector Fellowships event.