Government/Non-Profit Research and Policy

Many research and policy-related opportunities exist within the government and nonprofit sectors, allowing trainees to apply their problem-solving and analytical skills to real-world problems with a common goal of making a difference for the public good.

Government Research

Trainees may conduct research for a United States government agency. Examples of these agencies include the National Science Foundation (NSF), which supports research and education in all nonmedical fields of science and engineering, and the NSF’s biomedical counterpart, the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The NSF has several directorates that specialize in different research areas, including biological sciences; engineering; and social, behavioral, and economic sciences. Their missions include promoting the progress of science; advancing the nation’s health, prosperity, and welfare; and national security.

The NIH also divides itself into centers and institutes, such as the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute on Aging, and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Its underlying mission is to uncover new knowledge that will lead to better health for everyone. The NIH works toward that mission by conducting research in its own laboratories and supporting the research of nonfederal scientists (in universities, medical schools, hospitals, and research institutions in the United States and abroad). In addition, the NIH helps train research investigators and fosters the communication of medical and health-sciences information.

Local organizations include: Sandia Labs and Lawrence Livermore National Labs. The environments here may be similar to biotechnology research labs, though the missions are focused on advancing science for the common good.

Government Policy

In addition to conducting research, trainees may also serve as leaders or analysts in all levels of government or as program staff in multilateral organizations. Decisions about federal funding, policy, and the ethics of science and medical practice are made both at the state level and in the beltway around Washington, DC. Biomedical trainees are employed to inform and shape these important decisions that affect populations locally and globally. Many trainees enter government policy by participating in the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowship. Other common fellowships include the Christine Mirzanyan Science & Technology Policy Graduate Fellowship Program and the Presidential Management Fellows Program (PMF)

These programs are designed to engage fellows in the analytical process that informs US science and technology policy. Fellows develop basic skills essential to working on science policy at the federal, state, or local levels.

Nonprofit organizations

Trainees may also get involved in foundations, public agencies, and nonprofit sector agencies. Those who work in nonprofits identify gaps or areas for improvement within the biosciences, and they focus their efforts to support areas of research, education, and healthcare that need additional attention.

Some nonprofit opportunities can be found in the William and Flora Hewlett Packard Foundation, the American Heart Association, the Ford Foundation, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Desired Skills for Government and Nonprofit Organizations

  • Research and applied problem-solving skills: Both strong quantitative and qualitative data-analysis skills are necessary to solve real-world problems.
  • Communication skills: Public speaking and negotiating skills are valuable. It is also critical to have strong writing skills.
  • Leadership and teamwork skills: Learning to lead others and work collaboratively is important in managing groups, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations.


Further Resources

Career Success In Policy: Overview of job interests, skills, and values, as well as resources for finding jobs in policy

The Stanford Graduate Certificate in Policy Analysis is a flexible 25-unit program is designed for students who are interested in policy but may not be able to spare the time or money to complete a formal one-or two-year policy degree. It provides a solid background in economics and quantitative methods, while additional coursework  in political analysis, ethics, and writing for policy audiences rounds out the experience and equips students with a diverse set of skills necessary to design and evaluate policies, conduct research, and advocate policy solutions.

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