Watch: All About the CCST Science & Technology Policy Fellowship

A graphic featuring a photo of the four panelists, the title of the webinar, a black and white photo of the California State Capitol, and CCST's logo.


 

WATCH
All About the CCST Science & Technology Policy Fellowship
Informational Webinar and Live Q&A with Alumni

Are you exploring career options where you can use your PhD to have a real world policy impact? Watch this webinar to learn more about the CCST Science & Technology Policy Fellowship, where PhD scientists, social scientists, and engineers spend a year working in the California State Legislature, State Agencies, or Offices of the Governor—guiding the future of California policy.

The webinar includes:

  • Presentation overview about the fellowship
  • Navigating the application and interview process
  • The ins and outs of the fellowship
  • Live Q&A with fellows alumni—bring your questions!

Read the transcript from the alumni Q&A below.


Fellowship Application Details
See our Fellowship FAQ for full details.

Timeline

  • Applications due March 1, 2024, 11:59 pm PST
  • Next cohort starts Nov. 1, 2024

Eligibility

  • PhD in science, social science, or engineering field* by Sept. 15, 2024
  • US citizen or eligible to work on a full-time basis for a US employer

Compensation

  • Salary, paid-time off, health, dental, & vision benefits, relocation reimbursement, professional development funds

Application Materials

  • Application, Resume/CV, Statement of Purpose, Two Letters of Recommendation

Post-Fellowship Career Paths

  • Fellows alumni work in a variety of careers, mostly policy related, following the Fellowship in state and federal government, at nonprofit institutions, academic institutions, federal laboratories, and more.
  • Fellowship work can relate directly to their PhD, or serve as an opportunity to jump into completely new topics of interest.

 

Alumni Q&A Transcript
Modified for brevity. Moderated by Puneet Bhullar.

 

What experience outside of research do you think made you a competitive applicant?

00:15:43:12 – 00:16:10:05
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
That’s a great question because I was going to say that I actually didn’t like. I was part of like science policy organizations, but I never did actual like memos or things that other fellows had in my cohort. And so I think what actually made me competitive was my science outreach. So the ability to communicate with any audience, the science in terms that is that are digestible, the ability is the communications is a big, big part of being a successful scientist.

00:16:10:05 – 00:16:44:22
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
But as a successful policy person like, you know, science in science policy or advice or whatever. So I think my outreach in science and also like the experiences that I had also doing like mentoring and things like that, is the ability to also demonstrate that we could work as a team, but also our leadership skills. And we all as scientists, through the graduates, we get a lot of skill sets that we don’t know how to convey, like how they are translatable skills that we could utilize in other venues.

00:16:44:22 – 00:17:08:09
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
And so that was a really good thing that I had advice on from a previous fellow that told me how to kind of like showcase the work that I had done, not necessarily directly in policy, but that had policy kind of like components to them. And one of the things was that I really my, my research was in the toxicity of heavy metal.

00:17:08:11 – 00:17:42:16
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
And one of the things that I’m always been really interested is in environmental toxicants, how they impact the nervous system. And I was able to share my application, how I was able to write blogs and advise and volunteer for the Flint water situation when I was a grad student. And I think all of that plays a huge role in demonstrated that although you don’t have direct policy experience, you’ve been working towards kind of building yourself to pursue a career in policy or policy adjacent or related careers.

00:17:42:18 – 00:17:57:13
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
So I think is the ability to to share in your statements how what has prepared you to get to this point where you think this is what you want to pursue? And to me was my outreach and communication experience.

 

What do the fellows do day-to-day during their fellowship (e.g. intensity, number of hours, days per week, demands)?

00:18:39:21 – 00:19:04:01
Stephanie Mitchell
Yeah, sure. So as somebody who worked in the legislature for my fellowship and currently does, there are definitely cycles within the legislature of quieter times and speedier times, which did kind of jibe with my experience in academia that like sometimes you were like gearing up to do something really big and sometimes you were putting in really long hours to get some kind of experiment done.

00:19:04:01 – 00:19:22:21
Stephanie Mitchell
So that’s kind of a fun thing that I do like. I like kind of those are really fast paced times, and during those times it’s going to be a lot of meetings. People. I mean, you are a kind of a public representative of the California legislature, so the door is always open. People can come through with their problems.

00:19:22:21 – 00:19:47:06
Stephanie Mitchell
So kind of surprise meetings with people wanting to talk about their issues, meeting with staff for a different assemblyman and women to help them think through their ideas and talk about any unforeseen consequences of their policy proposal that they’re thinking about doing. And then a lot of reading and writing. So what that looks like is different depending on what your issue is.

00:19:47:06 – 00:20:15:21
Stephanie Mitchell
Something is our kind of really well documented and you can get the history of a concept or an idea and looking at their previous bill analysis is really helpful. But of course a lot of information is actually stored within people who have been doing this job for a while. And so you kind of just get to know your resources, which are not always online like you maybe are used to when you do kind of scientific research, but like knowing who you want to go to to ask questions to.

00:20:15:21 – 00:20:29:01
Stephanie Mitchell
So yeah, it’s a lot of kind of social information gathering at this stage, but I’ll let people who have kind of different experiences go now.

00:20:29:03 – 00:20:30:04
Puneet Bhullar
Ope that you want to take it next?

00:20:31:01 – 00:20:58:16
Ope Oyewole
Yeah, I was going to add, so Steph has the legislative perspective. I worked in the executive branch in Department of Insurance, and a lot of it for me was meetings. I had a lot a lot, a lot of meetings meeting with stakeholders and going to different insurance focused organization, whether it was international or national or state level discussions.

00:20:58:18 – 00:22:05:11
Ope Oyewole
Some of it was meetings with stakeholders that were nonprofit organization members, or some of it was other government agencies that we would collaborate with. And there was also some event organizing as well. So trying to get people together in a room and sourcing different stakeholders and experts that could talk on a topic. Like Steph said, there was writing and researching and a little bit of the legislative process also affected my work as well because the branch that I was working with was also closely following and bills are going through the legislature and that’s something that I was looking forward to working in this department, being able to see a little bit of the legislative process from the agency side of things, because a lot of times the legislature writes the bills and passes the laws and then the agencies are the ones that implement those laws. And so that was a little bit of my experience to seeing it from the agencies point of view, like how does this bill affect us and the work that we’re doing? And so that was some stuff that I did.

00:22:05:13 – 00:22:29:22
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
I guess I’ll just add that I was also in the executive. I was in the Office of Planning and Research and and, you know, when I stepped in, I guess like a big just mentioned like all the the grants, like I was basically approached like a manager for research projects that were funded after like the submission happened and all these policies happened before I arrived to the office.

00:22:29:22 – 00:22:56:08
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
And so basically I got to the office and I had the opportunity to lead this research portfolio of, you know, projects that were focused on adverse childhood experiences. So my days look like a lot of reading, but a lot of coordination, like organizing meetings, organizing data, working with budgets is a ton of emailing, a lot of meetings too, like OPA.

00:22:56:10 – 00:23:20:06
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
But it actually was really great because I got to see some of the policy making through my CCST training, my colleagues, and also through the leadership of the office I was part of. But then I got leadership experience, which I was really excited about and it led for me to have the position that I have today leading a program of like almost 200 scientists.

00:23:20:06 – 00:23:45:15
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
And so I think that, you know, sometimes you would think that the position kind of looks a little bit, you know, kind of you may not be place in the office that this your top choice or whatever, but I assure you that this experience will significantly impact your professional career. And just to have this on your CV has so much weight that people will want to really recruit you and hire you.

00:23:45:21 – 00:24:13:15
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
And so I, I didn’t have a program management experience like as a title before this, this current role that I have. But the CCST allow me to do it, to have that role. And so it just really contributed like it allow me to have this job. So I think that my day looked very different than most closely my cohort, but it was great because it was perfect for what I wanted to. I realized what I wanted to do next. Yeah.

 

Any advice on who to select to write letters of recommendation?

00:24:54:14 – 00:25:25:06
Ope Oyewole
I decided based on my relationship mostly with different people, I had my API right. Basically on my technical and I guess because he I had worked with him the longest of everybody that I asked for. And so that was basically technical. But then also my characteristics as a lab member, I also had a mentor, like a personal mentor who brought some a recommendation better for me.

00:25:25:08 – 00:25:57:23
Ope Oyewole
And then finally I was part of an organization in I am part of an organization in Omaha, Nebraska, that is a local nonprofit. And so I had the executive director because I had worked with with her for a while to to write for me. I think mostly I was asking them to highlight more than technical expertise, their experience of working with me and how I showed up in the work that I was doing with them, and then what they thought about like my potential with my career.

00:25:58:00 – 00:26:04:13
Ope Oyewole
So that’s kind of the focus of my request to them.

00:26:04:15 – 00:26:15:02
Puneet Bhullar
And did did either of you, Alex or Stephanie, have a different experience or a different thought process when in choosing somebody to write your letter of rec?

00:26:15:04 – 00:26:47:22
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
I did. So I guess I mean, I did have my graduate school mentor and my two postdoc mentors, but I’m very like letters of recommendation are so important. I mean, you work really hard on crafting your your message in your personal statement, but that’s all you can control, right? But I guess I wanted to have a little bit more input in the letters of recommendation, so I sent them basically what is it that the fellowship looks for in candidates and how different components from my application or my statement are addressing that.

00:26:47:22 – 00:27:12:00
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
I have actually worked really hard and I meet all of those qualifications that the statement that the fellowship looks for and they embedded some of that information in the letters of recommendation because they all had supported me in pursuing service, pursuing outreach and education efforts. And they all knew very clear that my passion is to give back in whatever way.

00:27:12:02 – 00:27:33:18
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
And so they really like were really strongly about supporting me to pursue this fellowship to begin with, because they knew that throughout my career I lived a life of service and I want to continue to do so. And I really wanted to do this. And then they were also like, you know, what else can we add here to make sure that we are writing a strong supporting letter?

00:27:33:20 – 00:27:53:19
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
The worst thing that one could have and I’ve been evaluator of fellowships for the Society of Neuroscience and for said so we letter of recommendation because you’re competing with so many. Right. And so I think that if you can help your writers kind of work on your letter, you, you know, I think you have higher chances of having a really strong letter.

00:27:53:22 – 00:28:15:13
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
I mean, these are really busy people, right? So I send them the request for the letter. Once they said yes, I replied with my CV and the question like the things that were expected for fellows with bullet points of things that I have done that are good for that and I recommend to everybody that has reached out to me to do the same.

00:28:15:15 – 00:28:38:22
Stephanie Mitchell
Yeah, I don’t have much to add to this besides just make it as easy on your letter writers as possible to write you a glowing letter of recommendation and even just let them know like I chose you. Because I think you can really speak to these skills that I have and that I hope I can, like, made very abundantly clear in my time working with you and I would just just do your best for them as my only recommendation.

How interested in politics were you before considering a career in science policy? / What would you say to someone who is interested in science policy but not sure yet if they want to spend their career in it?

00:29:44:19 – 00:30:09:10
Ope Oyewole
I think something to highlight is while most CCST fellows go into policy after the fellowship, not everybody does that. Alex is a good example. She’s not in science policy right now and she did the fellowship. So I don’t think you’re tied to a policy career after this. This is one year of trying out something new and learning new skills.

00:30:09:12 – 00:30:36:01
Ope Oyewole
If you’re not interested in academia especially and you want to go into industry or other fields outside of academia, the skills that you gain during this year of fellowship are super important and will set you up for whatever other career that you’re going into. And so I think it’s worth worth a shot to try for it and spend a year learning and networking and meeting new people in a cohort of other people as well.

00:30:36:01 – 00:30:48:00
Ope Oyewole
So it’s not just you at a new job, in a new place, you have 13 in-built friends basically when you come to California. So yeah, I think it’s worth a shot.

 

What is the process like for getting placements assigned? How much influence do fellows have over their placement location?

00:31:16:00 – 00:31:50:01
Stephanie Mitchell
Yeah, sure. The placement process seems very, very stressful when you’re in it. I mean, I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Everybody gets really anxious because you’ve come to California, you’ve done a big potential career shift and like this seems like the the thing that’s really going to make or break you, but the process is really thoughtful. You spend the first month in training with CCST, and during that time you’re also getting to know the staff and meet with them and they’re learning about you the whole time.

00:31:50:01 – 00:32:24:00
Stephanie Mitchell
And so, like, you have people who are really starting to understand you and on on your team and want to put you in the best placement for you possible. And they’re going to help you with your eventual career goals. So the way that process generally looks is like you go through a series of interviews with the potential placement offices and the fellows rank who they’re interested in most, and also the placement offices respond and they talk about who they felt a best connection with and during that time, CCST is coming together and they are doing their magic behind the scenes.

00:32:24:00 – 00:32:42:12
Stephanie Mitchell
And like they know so much more than like I did as a fellow about like what was really going to be a good fit for me. And so, like, it’s important as a fellow during that time to be like, really honest and think about, like what you’re trying to get out of your fellowship. You’re like, What skills are you interested in learning?

00:32:42:18 – 00:33:07:08
Stephanie Mitchell
Like what has been really something that would be great for you to work on And like, even just think about what your skills are very broadly from, from grad school and like how that would work in a team or how like, how do you like to work in a fast paced environment and like CCST gets to take all that information and help you be in the best place possible.

00:33:07:10 – 00:33:31:09
Stephanie Mitchell
And so I think fellows definitely do have influence on where they go. And I would also say like trust the process. I mean, that’s kind of the overwhelming motto during this time is that CCST is invested in you and invested in like putting you in the place where you are going to grow the most and like be the best asset for California.

00:33:31:11 – 00:33:36:18
Puneet Bhullar
Right? Thank you. Stephanie. Did anything come up for either of you? Elixir? Okay. Before I move on to the next question.

00:33:36:21 – 00:33:55:17
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
No, I just wanted to add that, you know, it’s really interesting. It was interesting to me because I honestly didn’t even think that the organization, like CCST was going to take our input and like it was going to ask us to rank the offices that were of interest to us. And I think that that is, to me, to begin with, super valuable.

00:33:55:17 – 00:34:16:14
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
Like you care what our top five choices are and you do your absolute best to place every blow within their top five or so. And I think that’s a really difficult job to do with an organization. But also I think it is great for us because it demonstrates you’re really invested in us and trying to provide us for the opportunity that will align really well with our interests.

00:34:16:14 – 00:34:40:11
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
But sometimes if that is not the case, then you align it with our skill sets. And it has been extremely successful because the fellows in my year, I loved that they didn’t even think they would be like in business or in legal things are actually still in those roles. And so I think that you are all like master matchmakers. So yeah, that’s all I wanted to.

 

Could the panelists provide tips for the whole application process? What should we focus on in our personal statements?

00:35:04:01 – 00:35:42:10
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
You know, I think that is we have to think about a personal statement as the the way if like your presentation card to the committees, they don’t know you and they want to know that they could invest in you because this is really what you want to pursue. And so in order to demonstrate that you are really committed to an opportunity like this because this is of genuine interest to you and your professional development, you have to to tell your story, like who are you and what you know, what has what drove you to pursue science to begin with and what has guided you to make the decision to want to see what science policy

00:35:42:10 – 00:36:05:02
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
is and what are the things that you have done during your journey that have strengthened us. I can do that and make you realize that this is a really well informed decision that you’re making. It’s not a stepping stone for your next step. And so I think that I, to be honest, completely transparent. I know people that didn’t get in the fellowship.

00:36:05:03 – 00:36:24:15
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
And so even though after I did a first poster for two years and during my second postdoc, I wanted to apply since the first week I was in my second postdoc because I knew I wanted to pursue a career either in policy or leadership. And I really, really I love science policy. And so what, you know, imposter syndrome got the best of me.

00:36:24:16 – 00:36:58:16
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
What I did was I literally just went and saw the requirements and I made sure that I tackled every single point that the organization said that it’s looking for in a candidate. And so I told why was I told how I got interested into science, but I also share the story of like, you know, I’ve been interested in science because of my personal reasons, but I’ve always wanted to have a life of service, and I’ve demonstrated that I lived a life of service through my service in outreach and education and mentoring and all these things.

00:36:58:18 – 00:37:17:19
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
And then I combined everything to say, you know what? This is what I need to. Pursue the job of my dreams. And I think that if you have the ability to share what has gotten you to this point and why you want it and why you the candidate for it, I think that that’s great. It takes a lot of work.

00:37:17:22 – 00:37:42:15
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
People should be able to read you your statement and give you a feedback because it’s better when you have a fresh set of eyes that can tell you, hey, this is missing this, or do you just want it for like just because? And so that’s also what I did. I gave my statement to a lot of people, and so I was just finished by saying, you know, don’t be discouraged if you apply and you don’t get in is highly competitive, but you can apply again.

00:37:42:15 – 00:38:01:21
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
And so then you modify your your personal statement and you make sure that your letters are really strong. And we’re always really happy to help. Like former fellows, my LinkedIn people reach out all the time and I’m happy to give feedback. So yeah, so utilize your resources. Yeah.

00:38:01:23 – 00:38:03:18
Puneet Bhullar
Thanks so much for that.

00:38:03:20 – 00:38:28:21
Ope Oyewole
I was just going to add something else that I had in my I think are really great points. Something else I had in my application was why I chose CCST. Like why particularly I went to work and I was about CCST and also where I saw myself in the future and how CCST was going to help me get there. So there’s it was very demanding.

 

Is there any particular event that stands out during your fellowship period? What is the most exciting project you worked on in your placement?

00:38:50:21 – 00:39:15:07
Ope Oyewole
I think I guess the thing that I’m most proud of from the Fellowship is working to convene stakeholders for an urban forest project that we’re working on. So if you ever come to Sacramento in Sacramento, it’s full of trees. One of the nicknames is the City of Jesus Something. So I and I love it. That’s one of the reasons why I love I love the city.

00:39:15:09 – 00:39:50:19
Ope Oyewole
But California in general is considering or the CDI, the Department of Insurance was trying to figure out a concept for insuring cheese and how to help manage and protect the cheese that we have in California. And so we got to talk to people from TNC, people in Hawaii and on the East Coast and various other stakeholders. So nonprofit organizations, whether they were small or across the state and even the state forest or so people that at Cal Fire and the Department of Forestry in California.

00:39:50:19 – 00:40:15:04
Ope Oyewole
And so just getting those people, having the smaller meetings at the beginning to get the ideas, the challenges that people were going through and then bringing everybody to the same room and getting to talk about this problem and see a way forward and get people connected, was was something that I was super proud of. And I’m hopeful that down the line something will come of it. But that was that was a fun experience.

00:40:15:06 – 00:40:23:00
Puneet Bhullar
That’s really cool. Thanks for sharing that. Okay. Stephanie, do you have any experiences that jump out to you?

00:40:23:02 – 00:40:50:10
Stephanie Mitchell
Yeah, I mean, what’s kind of fun about being the legislature is that you get a bunch of different bills that come through your door and they can be on just the incredible breadth of topics even within the water parks and wildlife jurisdiction. And I got to analyze so many different things. And I think the bills that stand out the most to me are the ones where, like I really struggled on where like some things come through and you’re like, I can see why this is going to be a problem and maybe we should work together to fix this.

00:40:50:10 – 00:41:12:15
Stephanie Mitchell
And then other things. I was like, I it’s really hard for me to figure out what is the best move here and how complicated things are. And I think that was really interesting. I it not that I expected anything to be black and white, but even just to be in this position and talk to other people about these ideas and like, how would you handle this?

00:41:12:15 – 00:41:39:21
Stephanie Mitchell
And a lot of people are just like, you know, this is really complicated stuff and like, we’re doing our best in these different ways. And I think just like how much negotiation there is over just like what really stood out to me during the fellowship that like there was no black and white on nearly any subject. And I think that was really I mean, that’s the stuff that gets me excited and I wanted to be a part of that and kind of figure out how to tease apart issues.

00:41:39:21 – 00:41:46:24
Stephanie Mitchell
And so that’s, I think the best thing that stands out to me very well.

00:41:47:01 – 00:42:13:07
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
I guess I’ll add there’s two things. I mean, I think that, you know, being able to work kind of like helping manage projects that were funded because they demonstrated that they could have an impact in the population of California within five years. What’s amazing, because these are leaders in their fields developing devices or interventions that will help children affected or families with adverse childhood experiences.

00:42:13:07 – 00:42:43:02
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
So that was a huge deal for me. I was like on it. The second thing, I guess I mean, the second thing was the visit to the San Quentin prison that CCST took us. It had a huge impact on me because, you know, just hearing directly from people that are there and how, you know, they would talk about interventions, early interventions, and how that could have impact and influence their decisions or the mistakes that they made was really probably the biggest highlight.

00:42:43:02 – 00:43:01:23
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
And the third one I would say is that I was a mom. I became a mom when I started the fellowship, and I never thought that a leadership of a fellowship could be so supportive. And so as a new mom, it was like really interesting to see the outpouring of support from the placement office and from as leadership.

00:43:01:23 – 00:43:20:02
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
And so I have nothing but respect for everybody at CCST and from my placement office. And that was the highlight, honestly is working with amazing leaders that inspire you to be a better human is that was probably the biggest one. Thank you, Alex. That was great.

 

What was an unexpected challenge you experienced with the fellowship? How did you navigate it?

00:43:40:07 – 00:44:09:03
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
Yeah. So I mean, challenge was that one of the difficulties was that everybody from all of these projects were spread out through California. And so one of the biggest challenges was learning to I had to be really well structured. And so I wanted to have more advice and like coordination of events or like even meetings with leaders that are leading institutes or, you know, really large groups.

00:44:09:03 – 00:44:33:12
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
And so I sought advice from cohort fellows like the my colleagues, but also the leadership in my placement too. And I think that, you know, we don’t need to know all the answers. We shouldn’t invest a ton of time searching on our own for answers or tools that could make our our job easy, but rather we could also go to people after you done some of the research and be like, Hey, what do you utilize for this?

00:44:33:12 – 00:45:03:13
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
Like, how do you approach this management specific situation? And I think that that was honestly the only challenge that I had. And then, of course, personally like becoming a parent and trying to navigate when kids are sick and how to. But there’s a lot of communication is essential. And the ability to do hybrid was essential to me to be a successful fellow and a good mama. So yeah, those are the two points I have for that.

 

Would you recommend including “soft” skills on a resume?

00:46:06:01 – 00:46:40:11
Ope Oyewole
I imagine the statement of purpose is like the obvious place to put that kind of information in my resume. I put in the technical stuff, but then I also put in, like volunteer organizations that I was a part of, a volunteer positions that I had had. And I think that was kind of how I highlighted those, the soft skills and communicate sharing and collaboration and things like that. So that’s that’s kind of what I have for that. And then I if anybody else has something to add.

00:46:40:13 – 00:47:17:18
Stephanie Mitchell
This structure in mind, very similar that a lot of professional science related things and then a section for volunteer and yeah, the blogs that I had written, a variety of topics, the classrooms that I had like generated outreach materials for and kind of the outcomes of those things to show kind of like the practical and even just the amount of time that I’ve been engaging in these things to prove that this has been kind of. A core part of my motivation in science for a while there. And I agree, I think a lot of that came out more in the the statement of purpose.

00:47:17:20 – 00:47:37:06
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
I think when people think about like policy fellowships that, you know, you we all come from the scientific background and we pull all of our articles and stuff, but when you start the fellowship, you quickly realize that nobody really cares about your publication record or even like that you have a Ph.D., but rather like, are you a good team player?

00:47:37:10 – 00:48:00:21
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
Do you have good time management skills? Are you do you have cultural competency? You know, like those are also skills and they are essential for being a good policy person. And so if you know this ahead of time, you should totally added or at least edit in your personal statement, make sure that your letter of recommendations have that embedded with them, like the strength that you would bring as a team player.

00:48:00:21 – 00:48:21:10
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
And you know, you will learn quickly that you will you know, what you can say about your articles is the ability to start and finish your project and communicate to an audience that, you know, is all about communication. Being a team player and just the soft skills are actually here. The strength in the policy world. Yeah,

 

What was your interview process like? What did you do to prepare for the interviews?

00:48:34:20 – 00:49:06:06
Stephanie Mitchell
Yeah. So CCST kind is a staged interview process and there’s kind of different goals for each. So, I mean, maybe CCST have to be better to that, but I’m sort of getting prepared. My university did have a professional career development section and there’s a lot of questions on those pages that I thought about and started processing and thinking about responses to that, and that was really helpful to prepare.

00:49:06:08 – 00:49:28:24
Stephanie Mitchell
I did also just ask people to interview me practically, but I think the best thing to do is you’re spending a lot of quiet time and thinking about your motivation for doing it. Like at your core, what are the three things that really made you interested in this and kind of wanting to just shift away and do a very bold move and change kind of career?

00:49:29:01 – 00:49:45:21
Stephanie Mitchell
Like what? What makes you sure that this is the move for you? And then thinking about just like reflecting on any job you’ve had in grad school, like what are things that you like and didn’t like? And I mean very broadly, like not just like, I don’t like pipetting that much. Like, not that kind of stuff, but like, how did you like to communicate?

00:49:45:21 – 00:50:18:19
Stephanie Mitchell
How did you feel about meeting is how were you when things went fast? Like what are your reflections on teamwork and how you like to operate in those spaces and thinking about how you get to take those skills and bring them into a new field. Because I mean, I think that’s been an overall theme so far in a lot of these questions is that the skills you have as a scientist, although you won’t be probably in the primary literature anymore, you get to use those research skills, those team building skills, those communication skills, like how do you think about when you’re giving a presentation to your teammates, how you’re going to start them from square

00:50:18:20 – 00:50:40:01
Stephanie Mitchell
one and bring them along on this journey with you and how you reached your conclusion and why that that’s the most acceptable conclusion based on what you know, I like, you’re going to need to do those things in a policy world. And so I think like your job in the interview is to like show who you are as a person and like why you’re motivated to do it and that you have the skills to do the job and you’re interested in doing it.

00:50:40:01 – 00:51:01:00
Stephanie Mitchell
So like thinking about how you want to accomplish all three of those things. And I think there’s a thing it’s called like Star and I forget all of breakdowns, but there’s there’s a lot of helpful tools out there about how to like best answer interview questions so that the people who are reviewing feel like they know you and like that you’re excited to do the job.

 

How much independence do you have as a Fellow when executing an assignment in your placement?

00:51:20:24 – 00:51:50:09
Ope Oyewole
I think it depends on the office and also on, I guess, what the tasks are. But at the beginning I was definitely following my mentor around and joining meetings along with them. And then over time, as I started to gain ownership of some of the projects, I was able to lead the direction, maybe not entirely the direction, but most of the day to day tasks from that from from for each of these projects.

00:51:50:09 – 00:52:17:06
Ope Oyewole
So setting up the the, the workshop or the convening that I mentioned earlier, I was able to meet with stakeholders by myself or with a teammate. And so I think it depends on where you’re comfortable. A lot of times you’re like everybody has said, there’s communication and that’s super important. And so communicating where you’re comfortable with taking the lead or where you’d like more assistance or more direction is super important.

00:52:17:06 – 00:52:45:16
Ope Oyewole
And I think during the fellowship I was able to try to do that as much as possible with my mentor to ask for, okay, can I go this way? And then once I was given the go ahead to take take the lead and move on. So it depended on early in the fellowship, I was doing more things with my mentor and then later on during the fellowship, I think they let me try to figure things out myself.

 

Did you consider other jobs, postdocs, or fellowships? Why did you choose CCST?

00:53:06:19 – 00:53:40:11
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
Yeah, you know, I think that’s a really good question because there’s not a lot of opportunities like this that would allow you to get first hand experiences in policy with amazing policymakers in our state. Best like so solid in, you know, driving environmental issues, health issues and equity issues. Right. So I think that was to me, that decision was easy when I was thinking about the fellowship as an investment for my future professional career, which is what I think to about a postdoc.

00:53:40:11 – 00:54:02:13
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
Right. But the reality is that I knew I didn’t want to be in the bench. I did not want to be a bench scientist. I wanted to contribute with my skill sets to bigger issues. And so I think that if you look reflect on fellowship and this fellowship specifically, I would really highly recommend for everyone to see it as an investment in yourself.

00:54:02:15 – 00:54:25:17
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
You know, the experience you get is something nobody can take away from you, and the networking that you build will lead you to kind of know of opportunities that sometimes are not even listed. And so I think there’s so much power into becoming part of a fellowship like this one, which is also not as massive as other policy fellowships, but you’re kind of disappearing in the in the masses.

00:54:25:17 – 00:54:45:13
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
But this one is smaller and you get more of that one or one more of that networking. When you’re a fellow, it’s like a prestigious thing. When I was walking around like the Capitol, people are like, she’s a serious developer. And I was like, hey. And so like, it’s great. Like is a really the name of the fellowship, but the fellowship itself carries a lot of weight.

00:54:45:15 – 00:55:10:12
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
And I think that when I thought about it, I was just thinking and I knew this before I applied, that I was a really good investment in my career and I knew the reputation of the fellowship and the fellows, former alumni. And so I yeah, I just saw it as an investment and I was really excited. That’s why I chose that. I just wanted to invest in my professional career.

 

What are the job prospects for a Fellow? How do CCST and the alumni network help you land a job after the fellowship?

00:55:32:22 – 00:55:56:11
Stephanie Mitchell
Yeah. I mean, what’s great is that you get this kind of entire year to be doing the job and you’re building connections that whole time. So I asked my two mentors all throughout the year, like, who should I be getting coffee with? I have this master Excel sheet that I call the Rolodex where I log everybody that I ever met within their emails just because, like, who knows?

00:55:56:11 – 00:56:17:17
Stephanie Mitchell
Like I didn’t know at day one of the fellowship where I was going to be led to near the end. I mean, I think that’s pretty obvious when all of us are moving out of science. Like you don’t really know where that path is going to take you. I like being open to that. So I was, I think, preparing all the while to have these connections and think about what would be interesting to me.

00:56:17:19 – 00:56:42:05
Stephanie Mitchell
And so as far as job prospects, I mean, you have this a really interesting collection of skills now between your scientific technical skills and your political policy skills now. So as far as job prospects, I think a lot of people after their fellowship year find that they get really passionate about the subject matter that they were doing their year on.

00:56:42:05 – 00:57:12:16
Stephanie Mitchell
And so a lot of people try to stay adjacent to that. And so you can look for continuing state service options between like the legislature and more executive branch careers. Some people do want to go back to science, but they still want to stay in the policy field. So there are a lot of environmental scientist positions, for example, and I think fellows are really competitive for these jobs because they inherently know now how all of these systems work.

00:57:12:18 – 00:57:39:06
Stephanie Mitchell
And so you don’t come in from square one. It’s just like really compelling for potential employers. And the Fellowship alum are incredibly supportive and very available to be helpful. I mean, all of us get assigned to an alumni mentor that we get to do that with, and they’re helping throughout the whole time to help you talk that way and the way you had to make all these different connections.

00:57:39:06 – 00:57:54:13
Stephanie Mitchell
Like there is going to be a fellow somewhere if you’re interested in there that you can probably reach out to. And if not, then there’s a fellow who knows somebody there who can like get you an informational interview to get you prepped for the next job. So, I mean, I’m in the same fellowship office or I’m in the same office that I was doing my fellowship.

00:57:54:13 – 00:58:03:21
Stephanie Mitchell
So I didn’t need to go very far because I got this opportunity that I wasn’t going to let go.

00:58:03:23 – 00:58:04:11
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
Great.

00:58:04:14 – 00:58:42:03
Ope Oyewole
I was going to add sorry, that support that the fellowship gives for the job process is also throughout the year we have seminars and workshops and we also have the retreat where we get almost like it’s a two day retreat and you get intense job, job search, career advice from experts in the field. And so there’s that support that you get over time where you’re you’re encouraged to think about what you’re learning now and how you and how you see it applying to what you want to do in the future. Lots of resources that come along with that to.

00:58:42:05 – 00:59:16:00
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
Yeah, open. I wanted to share that, so I just wanted to like share that that was a really like one of the highlights of my fellowship too, was that retreat because it makes, it makes you reflect on the fellowship, what makes you happy and what would be the next steps for you professionally. So I think that it’s not like they’re pushing you to pursue like science policy, but rather to reflect on your experience in your placement, to interact with others and see what they experience. And then you can reflect and see what is it that I want to do next. Yeah, I thought that was also a really awesome part of the fellowship.

 

What was it like moving to and living in Sacramento?

00:59:40:22 – 01:00:02:05
Ope Oyewole
So I moved from Omaha, Nebraska, to Sacramento. So the weather, if you’ve been watching the news recently, you had like -20 degrees during week. And I was like, No, I’m glad I’m not there anymore. But I moved there, moved here in August to start. I actually was one of the few people that started earlier than the Fellowship in September.

01:00:02:07 – 01:00:23:14
Ope Oyewole
And I’ve mentioned she’s loved that. She’s in Sacramento. My floor, my of my placement office was on the 17th floor of a building that’s by the bridge. And every day I’d go just look out the window, just stand for a little bit and look out the window. It was just so beautiful. The farmers market is year round, so like every Saturday you can always go to the farmer’s market.

01:00:23:14 – 01:00:47:00
Ope Oyewole
Lots of great bakeries and fruit. And California, it’s like it’s been really nice to be around fresh fruit all year, just all the different varieties too. I really enjoyed it. There’s also the cohort experience that I had and I feel like my experience of California in Sacramento would have been super different if I didn’t have 13 other people around me doing it.

01:00:47:00 – 01:01:24:16
Ope Oyewole
And so I roomed with a fellow we had we had we’re working together at a house and we that was like our base of activities and we’d have we’d have watch parties for we had watch parties for like the Oscars. I think it was last year we had potluck dinners and breakfasts and yeah, so lots of things to do in Sacramento. We’ve gone on hikes around the area, 2 hours away from the Bay Area, 2 hours away, 45 minutes away from different hiking spots. And so lots and lots to do. I love it here.

01:01:24:18 – 01:01:30:00
Puneet Bhullar
You love to hear that. Any anyone want to add in or.

01:01:30:02 – 01:01:57:14
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
I mean, I love the food. California is just really like an amazing if you love food like I do, this is an amazing place to be. Also, like, I think that having, you know, the ability to go to Lake Tahoe if you want and it’s like an hour or something away or coming to San Francisco and like it’s just, you know, Sacramento, it’s like a you like you’re in the middle of so much and the access to amazing, good quality food, it was great.

01:01:57:14 – 01:02:18:20
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
The diversity was important for me. And so I think that, you know, like of course, the cohort makes a huge difference. I lived in Davis, which is not far from Sacramento. This right next to it, but it was really different once I started the fellowship because we had lunches and I never really had experience. Sacramento in the same way since until I started in this fellowship.

01:02:18:20 – 01:02:37:20
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
So you learn so much about the history and access to all these people is great. There’s like a really condensed, dense population of really highly skilled people in this one place, which is great because the networking, even having coffee, I met people that I didn’t meet through like the fellowship. So I think it’s just an amazing place.

 

What is your work-life balance like in your placement and after the Fellowship? Was much statewide travel involved in your placement?

01:03:02:10 – 01:03:22:20
Stephanie Mitchell
Yeah, I think there’s definitely some like deprogramming from grad school that all of us needed to do. And we came into our new job and that was another great advantage to having CCST and then also our own court so that we could all come together and like discuss that and work on having a better work life balance. But I would say there’s definitely work life balance now.

01:03:22:20 – 01:03:47:08
Stephanie Mitchell
I mean, even in the legislature where it’s kind of a roller coaster, a fast and slower paced time, like even throughout all of that, like that is still the balance that, you know, there’s faster times and there’s slower times and generally everything is 9 to 5, which is different. And awesome. So yeah, I think and especially like during those stressful times, it is important to know how you’re going to balance that out in your personal time.

01:03:47:08 – 01:04:14:11
Stephanie Mitchell
Like what things are going to calm you down, amp up, how are you going to de-stress? So like for me it’s a lot of baking and cycling and things like that and getting out and just enjoying the very beautiful access to natural resources. Both Alexander and Oprah were saying so, and now it’s it’s quite similar. I mean, I have more responsibilities now than I did as a fellow, but it’s really just kind of night and day for that structure and like what’s expected of you.

01:04:14:11 – 01:04:33:09
Stephanie Mitchell
And like, there are still times, like, things get busy and I will need to work outside of those 9 to 5 hours. But like, that’s very okay because also it’s a thing I’m excited to do in terms of statewide travel. I think that really depends on where your placement is in the coast. You does organize these really awesome field trips.

01:04:33:09 – 01:04:57:12
Stephanie Mitchell
So we got to see like most recently the the Oroville Dam nearby, which is very cool. So those things are kind of already seeded into the fellowship. And then as committee consultant, you can go around to different field people are hosting to see like for me and my space is looking at like new parks or this kind of conservation area and how we’re helping this animal out.

01:04:57:14 – 01:05:20:13
Stephanie Mitchell
Or if you’re in a personal office, you’ll probably be going to your Assemblymember or Senator’s district and like learning about their issues within their district. And then I think for people who get placed in more executive positions, there’s a lot of opportunity, I think, to travel and like go around and see all the different programs that somebody is running and meet people across the state.

01:05:20:13 – 01:05:32:08
Stephanie Mitchell
So I think really, depending on your placement, there is more or less. But I think we all try to take advantage of those as much as possible and they’re available.

 

Final Question: Please provide a final word of advice to our prospective applicants.

01:05:48:19 – 01:06:18:17
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
Yeah, sure. I think that, you know, Lynn, I just would encourage all like anyone that is interested in pursuing a career that is either in policy or policy related to give yourself the opportunity to experience it, you know, firsthand and apply to maybe remove yourself from the competition just because you’re uncertain, because there’s nothing better or stronger than making a well informed decision.

01:06:18:18 – 01:06:54:12
Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez
And if you don’t have exposure to things, how can you really know if this is for you or not? And what I had viewed as a science policy was completely different when I started, which it was even better. And so I just encourage everybody to apply. I mean, this, you know, policy fellowships really impact it significantly in a good way, my professional career. And so I think that it opened huge doors. And I think that I, you know, I would encourage everybody to to do it because it will be really helpful for everyone. Yeah.

01:06:54:14 – 01:06:58:14
Puneet Bhullar
Stephanie, any word of advice?

01:06:58:16 – 01:07:36:22
Stephanie Mitchell
I think you’re just like maintaining openness. And I think that means like in terms of how you think about your skills and what you want to bring and what you want to do, but also just knowing that this is like a very cool time to discover new things and new things to be passionate about. So just to come back to that idea of like placement offices, I mean, there is so much very interesting stuff to dig into and like to just be open to a year of exploration and adventure is the best way, I think, to approach the CCST interview process and application process and then actually a fellowship here.

01:07:36:24 – 01:07:38:17
Puneet Bhullar
Thank you. And Ope.

01:07:38:19 – 01:07:58:20
Ope Oyewole
Yeah, I love I love that openness advice gesture. I’d say to start on your application as well and try to get your link your recommenders links out to them as soon as possible. You want to give them enough time in between to make sure that they get it in before March 1st. So you don’t get kicked out of the system by after March 1st.

01:07:58:20 – 01:08:27:24
Ope Oyewole
So yeah, definitely make sure you’re putting in things on time. I’d also say to take informational interviews, you’ve heard from three of us today, but there are 172 trained fellows now. So go on LinkedIn, look for people, ask questions and let their answers help inform you of your decisions and how you want to approach your career too. So yeah, but apply. Go for it.

###


About the CCST Science & Technology Policy Fellowship:
The CCST Science & Technology Policy Fellows program places PhD-level scientists, engineers, and social scientists in the California State Legislature, State Agencies, and Offices of the Governor for a year of public policy, leadership training, and public service—training scientific thinkers to be policy-savvy, while helping equip California’s decision makers with science-savvy staff.

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