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Applying Social Science to Policy Making

How does a PhD in political anthropology apply to international agriculture and human rights? Deborah Schneider found out through her S&T Policy Fellowships.

In 1999 she held a tenure-track position at the State University of New York at Binghamton, but wasn’t satisfied with her academic career. She heard about the Science & Technology Policy Fellowships from colleague Virginia Vitzthum, who was a Fellow at the U.S. Agency for International Development in 1998-99, and then at the National Science Foundation in 2001-02.

While Schneider had no prior experience working directly on public policy issues, she credits her graduate research on business privatization issues after the fall of the Soviet Union to her success in her fellowship assignments. Schneider arrived in Washington, D.C. in the hopes that her experiences would expand her knowledge base, contacts, and career prospects. As a Fellow, she remembers taking advantage of opportunities to meet and talk to as many people as she could. She noted that even sitting down for a 15-minute conversation could be valuable, and Schneider was always eager to learn more. 

Those discussions led to an assignment working with the Armenian Agriculture Department on business privatization issues in post Soviet-era Armenia. Schneider was tasked to help boost economic growth through a variety of business projects from the wine, cognac, and vodka industries to artificial insemination of goats. It was because of her graduate research in social sciences and her prior Russian language skills that Schneider was able to jump right into this project.

That experience prompted a desire to expand her horizon even more, and Schneider pursued a second-year fellowship at the State Department in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. She accepted an assignment working on East Asia issues, specifically the US-China Human Rights Dialogue. This led to a permanent position as the special assistant to the Under Secretary of Global Affairs working on democracy and human trafficking challenges.

Schneider credits her fellowship experiences for opening the doors to a career path at the State Department, where she’s now held several positions including her current post as special advisor in the Office of Cyber Affairs, where she works on cybersecurity issues.

"The Fellows' expertise is incredibly helpful and enriches the State Department with an exchange between research and policy," says Schneider. During her employment with the State Department she's had the opportunity to mentor other Fellows and hire them as full time staff members. "It's important to serve as a mentor to help advise current Fellows," she stressed. "It's culturally different here [in government] and it's helpful to have someone ahead of the game to give advice."

One piece of career advice that Schneider offers from her experiences in academia, as an S&T Policy Fellow, and as a government employee is to “Do what you love..”

Deborah Schneider PhD, 2000-01 AAAS S&T Policy Fellow, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of International Programs, Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service; 2001-02 AAAS S&T Policy Fellow, U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

Disclaimer: The perspectives and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of AAAS, the Science & Technology Policy Fellowships, the U.S. Government, or the federal agencies/offices mentioned.