Event Recap: Dr. Sarah Martin, ASBMB Science Policy Fellow

by Ian McLaughlin

On February 11th, Dr. Sarah Martin, a Science Policy Fellow at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB), visited Penn to chat about her experience working in science policy. As it turns out, her story is perhaps more circuitous than one might expect.

An avid equestrian, Sarah earned a bachelor’s degree in animal sciences and a master’s degree in animal nutrition at the University of Kentucky before embarking on a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry at UK’s College of Medicine. While pursuing her degrees, Sarah realized that the tenure track was not for her, and she began exploring career options using the Individual Development Plan (IDP) provided by AAAS Careers. At the top of the list: science policy.

With an exciting career option in mind, Sarah sought ways to build “translatable skills” during her Ph.D. to help her move toward science policy. She served as treasurer, and later Vice President, of UK’s Graduate Student Congress and developed her communication skills by starting her own blog and participating in ThreeMinute Thesis.  Sarah stressed the importance of communicating with non-scientists, and she highlighted how her practice paid off during Kentucky’s first-ever State Capitol Hill Day, an event that showcases Kentucky-focused scientific research to that state’s legislators.

Sarah also shared  how she got up to speed on science policy issues, becoming a “student of policy” by voraciously reading The Hill, RollCall, Politico, ScienceInsider, and ASBMB’s own PolicyBlotter. Additionally, she started to engage with peers, non-scientists, and legislators on Twitter, noting how it’s a useful tool to sample common opinions on issues related to science.  Finally, she reached out to former ASBMB fellows for advice on how to pursue a career in science policy – and they were happy to help.

Sarah then described the typical responsibilities of an ASBMB fellow, breaking them down into four categories:
  1. Research- tracking new legislation, and a daily diet of articles regarding new developments in science and policy
  2. Meetings- with legislators on Capitol Hill, staff at the NIH, partner organizations such as the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), and others
  3. Writing- white papers, position statements, and blog posts on everything from ASBMB’s position on gene editing to the NIH Strategic Plan for FY 2016-2020
  4. Administration- organizing and preparing for meetings, composing executive summaries, and helping to plan and organize ASBMB’s Hill Day.

Sarah also talked about her own independent project at ASBMB, a core component of each Fellowship experience. Sarah aims to update ASBMB’s Advocacy Toolkit in order to consolidate all of the resources a scientist might need to engage in successful science advocacy.

Comparing the ASBMB fellowship to similar fellowships, she noted as an advantage that there is no specific end to the fellowship, which gives Fellows plenty of time to find permanent positions that match their interests.  Sarah also noted that, compared to graduate students and postdocs, she enjoys an excellent work/life balance.

Ultimately, Sarah made it clear that she loves what she does. She closed by providing the following resources from ASBMB Science Policy Analyst Chris Pickett for anyone interested in applying for the ASBMB fellowship or pursuing a career in science policy:

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