Career area: Science policy and government affairs – EMBL Fellows' Career Service

EMBL Careers

A life science careers blog for early career researchers

This blog aims to inspire early career researchers exploring different career options. We provide interview-based profiles of life scientists working in diverse science-related careers and articles on a broad range of career-related topics, with new content added on a regular basis.

Career area: Science policy and government affairs

Science policy makes use of scientific knowledge and consensus for designing evidence-based policies towards best serving the public interest. You can work in science policy roles for government bodies, research institutes, universities, funding agencies, national academies, non-profit organisations, think tanks, scientific societies and the private sector. This is a multidisciplinary field at the interplay of science, politics and advocacy. Broad scientific knowledge and the ability to communicate clearly writing and orally with a variety of stakeholders are pivotal. This is a career with a broad societal impact and an interesting option for those aiming to translate scientific findings to bridge the gap between policy-makers and the public.

Roles and responsibilities

The tasks associated with science policy positions may include a subset of:

  • Identifying, analysing and summarising the current policy landscape
  • Gathering and synthesising key scientific information
  • Identifying experts that can provide evidence-based advice to design new and/or update policies 
  • Organising and facilitating events including talks, meetings and workshops bringing together scientists, policymakers and relevant stakeholders
  • Coordinating and delivering a variety of written outputs including science policy reports, position papers, blog posts, review papers, book chapters and/or opinion pieces
  • Advocating for policy changes that best serve the interest of organisations/national governments
  • Fostering national and international collaborations among governments and relevant stakeholders

Knowledge and skills

In our careers and skills survey,  7 science policy professionals told us the competencies they use most in their daily work. The most frequently selected competencies were:

  • providing broader impact  (selected by 71% of respondents; and ranked top for success in the role)
  • effective communication  (71%)
  • clarity of thought (67%)
  • resilient problem solving (67%) 
  • networking (67%)   
  • organization (67%)

Language skills

Some EU roles require fluency in two to three official languages of the EU. For roles at the national level, you will normally need full fluency in the national language.

Career entry and progression

In Europe, a range of science policy opportunities are available at different agencies at the European Commission in Brussels (note: these require EU citizenship). Roles also exist in non-governmental organisations, scientific societies, and at the national level in the civil service, science advocacy organizations and research funders. A limited number of trainee, internship and fellowship programmes are available, including traineeships for civil service roles (e.g. EU Blue Book scheme or national programmes). These opportunities allow you to break into the field. A role in science administration is also a common stepping-stone for working in the science policy field.

In the USA and Canada, a variety of well-established and structured science policy fellowship programmes exist for early-career researchers to break into the field. Commonly, these programmes often require citizenship to apply, but some of them are also open to non-nationals.

The AAAS report “Connecting Scientists to Policy Around the World” provides an overview of science-policy engagement programmes worldwide. 

Example job titles 

  • Science (policy) advisor
  • Public policy specialist
  • Policy analyst
  • Science policy analyst
  • Scientific officer
  • Scientific program analyst 

Why consider this career area?

In our careers and skills survey, scientists working in science policy and government affairs told us that they appreciate that their work:

  • is intellectually stimulating
  • benefits society

Want to learn more?

Additional resources on this blog

Interview-based career profiles for this career area

Sandra Caldeira – Deputy Head of Unit, European Commission’s Joint Research Centre

Sources / further reading

Further internal resources

For EMBL fellows

Within EMBL, further internal resources (e.g. recorded career seminars) can be found on our career exploration intranet pages.

Informational interviews

For all career areas, we highly recommend first learning more about the careers using the resources above, then conducting informational interviews to gain further insights directly from former PhDs working in career areas that interest you.

Last update: October 2022

EU flag and text, co-funded by the European Union
The EMBL Fellows' Career Service incorporates the EMBL Interdisciplinary Postdoc (EIPOD) career development programme. EI3POD and EIPOD4 have received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreements 664726 (2015-2020) and 847543 (2019-present) respectively.