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I wasn't exactly sure what I had gotten myself into...

By Eric Landree 2000-02 AAAS Fellow at the U.S. Department of Defense, Office of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Science and Technology

I wasn’t exactly sure what I had gotten myself into when I accepted a AAAS Defense Policy Fellowship and arrived for orientation in September of 2000. Little did I know that those two years would be two of the most rewarding years of my life.

To add to my already considerable anxiety was the fact that the Defense Policy Fellowship Program was only in its second year, and I had chosen an office for my placement that had never had a Fellow before. Would I spend the entire year just trying to find my way? (Anyone who has tried to find a room in the Pentagon for the first time will realize the truth in this statement—on so many different levels.) Either way, I had made my decision and the opportunity to succeed or fail was going to be mine, whether I was ready for it or not.

As a Defense Policy Fellow, I chose a placement in the Department of Defense (DoD) Office of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Science and Technology. To my enjoyment, I found an office rich in diversity of thought and opinion, with a balance of military personnel, scientists and career civil servants. The position was ideal in that it allowed me to engage in a wide variety of activities limited only by my own interest and enthusiasm.

My early responsibilities began with reviewing documents, to determine policy implications for defense science and technology, and occasionally I was asked to provide some technical expertise. Later I began to write memos and policy recommendations, and I collected and analyzed information concerning projects from throughout the department in order to draft reports and interagency publications. Early on in my first year, my mentor invited me to attend intra-department and interagency meetings that included representatives from throughout the federal government. More quickly than I expected, I found myself not only attending, but sometimes representing my office and the interests of the department.

In addition to the work, which I found both interesting and challenging, I was also afforded the opportunity to view events in history from within the DoD. During my fellowship, I gained first-hand knowledge of how an entity the size of the DoD goes about changing its way of doing business and aligns itself with a new way of thinking—corresponding to changes in views about the role of the military and the Department both internally and in the context of world events. I had the opportunity to witness firsthand the amazing process of how we as a democracy pass the reins of leadership from one administration to the next. Changes in ideology that would rip some countries to shreds from the inside out, we accept and accomplish (albeit sometimes imperfectly) because it is part of our national character. How amazing to be able to witness that process from within.

Then September 11, 2001. That day, by virtue of the friends and colleagues that I had made, will have additional significance to me. I had the privilege of working, learning and sharing with these people in times of peace. Then in the wake of the events of 9-11, I had the honor of witnessing the courage and honor of individuals, military and civilian, when they were called to respond. Amazingly I wasn’t cast aside for what I knew were new and more pressing responsibilities (as one may have expected). Instead, I was asked to help.

An education and experience like none that I ever imagined, I will always look back on my fellowship with a sense of appreciation for the opportunity to contribute in my own way, pride for the people that I had the opportunity to work with, and sincere gratitude for the adventures that provided me with new directions and opportunities that I would never have thought possible. By Eric Landree

Eric W. Landree served as an AAAS Defense Policy Fellow from 2000-02. He received a PhD in materials science and engineering from Northwestern University. He is currently an associate engineer for the RAND Corporation.

“Defense policy fellowships aren’t about the war,” a current Fellow said recently, “but about learning: (1) how the Department of Defense (DoD) functions, and (2) how science is used in DoD decision-making. It has been an amazing professional experience.” What are the career implications for former Fellows? Whether they stay in Washington, DC, working at the interface of science and policy, or go back to academe or other professional positions, former Fellows agree that the year has a powerful impact on their careers. Applications for all 10 of the Fellowship Programs are due on January 10, 2004.

Claudia J. Sturges - Director, AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowship Program

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.