Three years of the ASLO Science Communication Internship

Three years of the ASLO Science Communication Internship

By Adrienne Sponberg

This morning Facebook reminded me that “on this day” three years ago, I published the first-ever call for the ASLO Science Communication Internship. The program was new and I didn’t know what to expect in terms of applications. But I knew ASLO was well-positioned to expand our training opportunities beyond workshops.

Students and early career researchers frequently ask me at ASLO conferences, “How do I get a job outside of academia?” or “As a scientist, how do I get some experience in policy?” Around 2014, I realized that in over a decade, my answer had not changed. There were still seemingly few opportunities. In policy for instance, there are the Knauss Fellowships offered by NOAA Sea Grant (which was my own entree into this realm) and the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowships. Those programs were already competitive twenty years ago when it was still somewhat taboo to talk about pursuing careers outside academia. Now? The competition is even more intense. Both programs are also a bigger commitment and are intended for people who are done with their graduate schooling. They are also focused solely on policy, and science communication is so much broader than that.

What was missing was a shorter-term experience that provides a broader overview of all the forms of science communication. There are so many avenues through which science ultimately informs policy! I often refer to the “science policy ecosystem” because it is just as complex of a system as any that we study. It’s hard to convey much of this complexity – and where the opportunities are -  to young scientists in a ten-minute conversation at a conference.

I left these conversations, and even the 1 or 2-hour workshops we’d host at conferences, wishing there were more opportunities that helped people really get their feet wet and have some meaningful first-hand experiences. And another way to get that initial experience on their resume that would open doors to other opportunities. And so, with the enthusiastic support of the ASLO Board, we launched the Science Communication Internship in Fall of 2015.

In the past three years, I’ve hosted nine interns in the ASLO Office just outside of Washington, D.C., ranging in career stage from early undergraduate to postdoc (read more about them here). ASLO has benefitted immensely from their contributions, both the tangible ones listed in their intern summaries and the harder-to-define contributions. By spending a few months with each of these individuals, I have a better view of the issues and challenges for today’s young scientists. A lot has changed in academia since I finished my Ph.D. – everything from how we access journals, why we belong to societies, and the prevailing attitude towards “work life balance”. These informative conversations help me better serve and engage the ASLO membership. Our former interns continue to be engaged in ASLO activities as they’ve moved on to PhD programs, the AAAS Fellowship, communication jobs, or postdocs. As I hit ‘publish’ on the call for applications for the 2018 fall intern this morning, I look forward to continuing this program.

About the Author - Adrienne Sponberg is the ASLO Director of Communications and Science. She received her PhD in aquatic ecology from the University of Notre Dame and was a Sea Grant Knauss Policy Fellow for U.S. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon. She first started working with ASLO in 2001, through a joint position with the American Institute of Biological Sciences.

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