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A Breath of Fresh Air

Craving a way to navigate out of the oppressive feeling of being stuck in my career, I applied to the perfect opportunity: the AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowship. After a lengthy application process, I am currently completing my first year as a fellow!

I have shared candid conversations with other fellows over video chat and outdoor coffee chats. Each conversation brings me closer to the realization that I am not alone. The need to break out of the stifling ordinary career trajectory is an overarching theme for many scientists who apply for the fellowship.

Before the fellowship, I was working as a clinical veterinarian. One reason that I became a veterinarian is because I loved learning about how the body functions, and felt learning about a variety of species would be more interesting than learning about only one: humans. The desire to help both animals and the people that cared for them was the other reason that I became a veterinarian. Burnout is real, though. After working as a clinician for a decade, I began to feel it—I was getting burned out. I was ready for a change.

That same longing that I had to help animals and their people led me to explore science policy. In science policy I would have the chance to make a larger impact on society as a whole, a variation from my previous experience working at the individual patient level. 

The transition from clinical veterinary practice to federal policy did not happen overnight. During my time in clinical practice, I helped to grow a nonprofit organization that works with people experiencing crises who have pets. Working with this organization, I ventured out into homeless encampments, meeting people who relied on their pets for mental, emotional, and social stability. These experiences helped me develop a deeper understanding of the human-animal bond, and allowed me to become aware of the complex array of hardships and barriers that this particular segment of the pet-owning population faced on a daily basis.

As I became involved in the local social services system and learned about the politics of homelessness, housing, and social welfare programs, I began to grow an interest in policy. This interest took some time to grow roots. I finally realized, while at a veterinary social work conference, what kind of bigger impact I was looking to make. I would figure out how to work at the intersection of homelessness policy development and how those policies played out in the nuances of the real world. 

Even though I knew what I wanted to do in policy, I struggled to find a way to get my foot in the door. It seemed that everywhere I went I was seen as "just a clinical veterinarian." I reached out to my city council members, state senators, and participated in legislative days. Emails went unanswered, and I had a hard time navigating the new world that I wanted to be a part of.

Then I discovered the AAAS STPF. Doors that once seemed shut for me began to open. With each step of the interview phase I got closer to breaking into the policy realm so that I could work toward the impact I envisioned. 

A total of three months into the fellowship and I am already learning so much and meeting so many amazing people. I have even met other veterinarians working within the federal government in various capacities. Before this fellowship I had no inkling of the multitude of ways that a veterinarian could work in the government. But now I have been able to leverage the fellowship to learn and network, ensuring that when my fellowship is done I will be better prepared to forge ahead and make the impact that I sought out to do years before.

The STPF fellowship is providing an important stepping stone for me not only professionally, but mentally as well. I’m excited to see where it takes me, but for the time being I’m going to just enjoy this breath of fresh air.


Image: Leslie Brooks

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