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Using STPF Professional Development Funds: Part 2, Fellow Experiences

The ability to spend thousands of dollars on professional development over the course of a year is a major attraction of the AAAS S&T Policy Fellowship (STPF) experience. In this second part of a two-part blog series, see how fellows have spent this supplemental funding to uniquely complement their professional journeys. For strategies on how to think about spending this supplemental funding, take a look at part one.


Learning to communicate effectively

Vincent Tedjasaputra, 2019-21 Executive Branch Fellow at the National Science Foundation (NSF) Office of Legislative and Public Affairs, used his supplemental funds to develop new skills. He employed a marginal rate of return approach to evaluate which skills would maximize benefits for himself and his office. To improve his public speaking and managerial empathy, he worked with Josh Henkin, a AAAS-approved STEM career coach, who encouraged him to take on ambitious projects that would push him to develop skills on the job and lead teams to develop supervisory experience. To address the needs of his office, Tedjasaputra surveyed the scientific community and found a gap in how NSF communicated with the scientific workforce, especially those who may not have access to grants offices, which are common at R1 institutions. With guidance from his mentor, Tedjasaputra used his professional development funds to take virtual courses in crisis management, strategic communications and tactical negotiations. As a result, he created and launched NSF 101, an informational series meant to improve accessibility of the NSF funding experience. NSF 101 became an important tool in NSF’s strategic plan to ensure accessibility and inclusivity for communities underrepresented in STEM. The communications and strategic planning skills he developed as a fellow continue to serve him beyond NSF. Tedjasaputra is now the Director of Scientific Communications for the American Lung Association. 


Wei-Ming Chen, 2022-23 Executive Branch Fellow at United States Agency for International Development (USAID), has been working with public speaking coach Jordan Sandler of JS Media Training to enhance her communication skills. Sandler is a meteorologist who specializes in helping scientists communicate with the public and Chen had taken a few free introductory lessons to prepare for AAAS STPF interview week. Now, through her STPF professional development funds, Chen is able to access paid lessons to further develop her communication skills. As a result, she now has more confidence introducing herself at work and delivering effective elevator pitches, and she recently delivered an opening statement on Climate Change Adaptation Strategies for the US Energy Association. As a current USAID fellow, Chen can apply her supplemental funds toward temporary duty (TDY) travel. She has already attended a solar and storage conference in California in February and she is reserving the remaining two-thirds of her supplemental funds for TDY travel to Tanzania and Kenya in June. 


Developing useful on-the-job skills

Adria Brooks, 2020-21 Executive Branch Fellow at the Department of Energy (DOE), used her fellowship funds to learn how to make complex technical information understandable to policymakers. Brooks signed up for Stephanie Evergreen’s Data Visualization Academy, an modular course offering a research-based approach to data design and communication. With STPF PD funds, she was able to take courses from data communication expert Ann Emery. Through both programs, Brooks developed valuable visualization and design skills and quickly became the go-to person in her office for communicating data effectively. At one point in her fellowship, she was even asked by the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Renewable Power to create a graph for Secretary Granholm on renewable energy growth in the United States. The graph that Brooks developed helped inform DOE decarbonization policy decisions. Brooks also created a visual on transmission expansion, an enlarged version of which now hangs as a poster in the Secretary’s office. Brooks' skills helped secure a full-time position within DOE, where she currently continues to support the department through data analytics and visualization.


Making new connections

Billy Hall, 2019-21 Executive Branch Fellow at USAID, invested in leadership development during his fellowship. Seeking virtual training opportunities during the height of the pandemic, he was advised by his mentor to participate in the Environmental Leadership Program (ELP), a 12–13-day fellowship program designed for emerging environmental and social change leaders. Led by experienced facilitators, the program offers open-ended activities for participants to explore areas of personal and professional growth. Hall valued the connections he made with other fellows, citing the program's emphasis on vulnerability as a standout feature. He remains in touch with his peers, who supported him during a challenging time, and highly recommends ELP to others. Hall continues to work at USAID, now serving as a development policy analyst focusing on food systems, inclusive development and DEIA. 


Traveling to conferences

Bandana Kar, 2022-23 Executive Branch Fellow at the DOE, took the opportunity to immerse herself in conference travel. As a senior scientist from an energy research laboratory, Kar chose a fellowship at the DOE to deepen her understanding of the policy side of energy storage, usage and resiliency. To accelerate her learning, her mentor recommended attending several conferences, including the STORE4BUILD consortium meeting Colorado, the ASHRAE – BUILDINGS XV Conference in Florida and the 2023 ASHRAE Winter Conference in Georgia. Collectively, these conferences provided her with new insights into the outlook of energy storage at the national level, energy use at the local level and the roles of various stakeholders every step in between. Now, as an active participant in quarterly and biweekly meetings with labs, Kar offers new perspectives and insights, requiring critical assessment of clean energy adoption considerations from material selection to storaging and building envelope technologies to achieve energy efficiency, resilience and justice. She has renewed her fellowship for a second year to learn more about program management and how she can more effectively push scientists to build a path forward and expand the adoption of new energy technologies.



Dr. Jaclyn Brennan is a 2022-23 STPF Executive Branch Fellow at USAID, and a 2021-22 Legislative Branch Fellow in the U.S. House of Representatives. She holds a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering.

Note: The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of AAAS or the United States government.

Image: Unsplash (

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