Science Policy: Develop a Course

Design a syllabus for early career scientists in STEM disciplines


Science policy and advocacy are critical areas for early career scientists to influence society. Science policy professionals may design and deliver effective virtual programs to equip early career scientists (PhD students and postdocs) with the skills and knowledge needed to translate their research to non-scientific audiences. The goal for the programs is to teach fundamental concepts, exposes scientists to career options, and provides opportunities for practical experiences. These educational experiences contribute to building the next generation of leaders in science policy and advocacy. 

In science policy and advocacy courses for early career scientists, science policy professionals teach participants to communicate about their research to policy makers through practical exercises and networking opportunities. It is important to create a syllabus for the course that serves early career scientists at different stages in their training, and covers different disciplines depending on the institutional needs. As science policy and advocacy are becoming more popular career avenues for scientists, institutions could adopt this model on a national or international scale to train the next generation. The syllabus could be distributed to institutions across the country interested in developing a similar course for early career researchers in STEM fields. 

Syllabi are typically designed by instructors and faculty at universities working in policy, teaching, and doing policy research. The course syllabus and schedule would cover particular areas of science policy and advocacy that the instructors would like to emphasize depending on the interest of their learner population. This could result in a shorter or longer course, one that would focus on particular policy areas, or one that covers science policy and advocacy more broadly.

The Process

Develop a science policy syllabus based on the specific training needs for your particular institution. Decide if your course will offer a certificate or badge. 

  1. Determine course focus based on institutional needs
  2. Determine course format, length, and teaching methods 
  3. Define the course and learning objectives
  4. Plan practical activities for the course
  5. Determine how you will administer the course
  6. Observe the course to see how the syllabus is being used
  7. Design survey questions to determine syllabus effectiveness
  8. Revise syllabus and repeat process
  9. Publish evaluation and assessment data from course
  10. Recruit institutions to adopt the course syllabus

The Exercise

Create a general syllabus for a full virtual course. Design the syllabus for your particular audience. Define the groups of trainees and departments for which this training is designed, based on the needs of the institution. 

One example is the virtual Science Policy and Advocacy for STEM Scientists Certificate Program at UC Irvine. The UC Irvine Certificate Program was tailored for PhD students and postdocs in STEM disciplines. The TOPICS covered:

  1. Fundamentals of science policy and advocacy 
  2. Scientific research policy and education/workforce policy topics
  3. Advocacy and communication strategies for policymakers (w/ power mapping) 
  4. Career panels for science policy fellowships 
  5. Application of policy skills to a particular area (e.g. industry)
  6. Engagement in policy at the local level
  7. Elevator pitching session and writing session
  8. Networking sessions with science policy professionals 

This certificate program is designed to be more comprehensive, but variations to utilize the curriculum are possible depending on the institutional needs. For example, use topics 1 and 2 for a fundamentals course; use 1 and 3 for an advocacy focus; or use 1, 4 and 5 for a career-focused course. Each of these combinations should include a number of practical activities for the students. At the end of each course, the efficiency of the syllabus as a teaching tool should be assessed through surveys and evaluation forms, and adapted accordingly for each subsequent offering.

Your role

For this job sim, you are an instructor designing the syllabus for a short course with the help of policy advisors. As the instructor, assess the needs of your early career population and institution. You will likely submit the syllabus for approval by the unit you are working with at the institution (e.g., graduate college or academic department).

Task 1: Set the format and length for a short course focused on advocacy.

For this course, your audience is STEM PhD students and postdocs. Your course is conducted over zoom. You will cover fundamentals of science policy and advocacy, as well as advocacy and communication strategies for policymakers (w/ power mapping) (topics 1 and 3 above).

Select the skills and topics you want to cover from this article, “How Do I Advocate for Policy Change,” and determine the format and length of the course, and how you will run it. Will it be a lecture, panel, a flipped classroom, etc.? How many weeks will it be?

Task 2: Define course and learning objectives

Now write out the overall course objectives and learning objectives for each lesson. Define areas in which students will gain knowledge, the skills you want them to learn, and practical ways to apply them.  

Will you provide a badge or certification? If so, instructors should decide the final certificate or badge criteria and communicate it on the syllabus.

Task 3: Plan the course activities

To learn advocacy skills, oral communication is key. How would you design an elevator pitch activity to teach this skill? How do participants know if they did a good job on the pitch – will you have judges and hand out a rubric? Will the pitches be recorded? Will participants pitch in multiple rounds?

Give specific instructions on pitch length. Also instruct the students on where and when to submit assignments. 

For the activities, consider your class size. Activities will be different if you are hosting 70 participants versus 20. Will you invite reviewers to provide feedback on assignments? Representation is important – how will you identify and connect with diverse speakers? Be sure to recruit enough reviewers ahead of time to provide feedback on different course activities. 

In addition to elevator pitches and power mapping, other activities that are useful for policy careers include writing op-eds and memos. Students can also enter elevator pitch competitions to continue speaking on their projects, or pitch to legislators after receiving instructor feedback. Consider setting up a larger Slack and LinkedIn group to continue fostering this community with the next cohort of the course. Include panelists, speakers, alumni, and other professionals in the group.

Task 4 (advanced): Decide on the administrative aspects of the course

In addition to the syllabus, consider how students will access the course and submit assignments. Decide where you will house the assignments that students submit. Think about the learning management system you will use. For example, will materials be housed in a google drive? An excel sheet can help you keep track of the course as a whole. 

Will you create a YouTube channel where lectures will be posted for community access? One benefit is that a video channel for science policy and advocacy content allows participants to review the information after course completion.

Will you have a coordinator? Who will keep track of assignments and remind students about dates and deadlines? If you are administering a badge or certificate, when and how will you communicate with the students about the criteria and decide on the final list of recipients?

The Deliverable

For this job sim, the deliverable is the draft of a course syllabus with topics to cover, learning objectives for each topic, as well as active learning activities for each topic. Decide on the details of badges or certificates offered upon course completion (if any). The syllabus will also define the population which it is intended to serve, as well as the course length and format.

Sample Deliverable

Task 1 – course format and length, 3 week short course

  1. Lecture (90 min) Fundamentals of science policy and advocacy; students pick a policy topic they want to work on for the rest of the course.
  2. Interactive pitch session, some lecture and break out rooms (90min) – Advocacy skill 1, learn to communicate your message; students begin to work on a pitch.
  3. Interactive power mapping lesson, some lecture and break out room (90min) – Advocacy skill 2, students research a policy maker and refine their initial pitch accordingly.

Tasks 2-4, view this STEM policy program example from Arizona State University.


General resources to help you get started:

Policy resources:

Articles on advocacy:

Teaching resource:

Pitch examples:

Power mapping resources:

Skills Used to Perform These Tasks

  • Organized
  • Reliable
  • Proactive
  • Interest in science policy and advocacy
  • Knowledge of curriculum development

Skills Used in This Field

  • Interest in education and training
  • Relationship building with professionals
  • Research and delivery of quality, relevant information from reliable sources 
  • Clear and effective oral and written communication for non-scientific audiences
  • Writing policy documents
  • Problem solving, deductive reasoning, reflection
  • Leadership and teamwork with individuals from different backgrounds
  • Consensus building in a group towards a common goal 

Tasks completed in creating the syllabus: 

  • Reviewing homework assignments
  • Recruiting speakers and reviewers
  • Communicating with students and speakers via email
  • Class management (e.g., check submitted assignments, hold office hours) 
  • Teamwork and ability to work across time zones
  • Use of zoom, google suite and Youtube platforms

Additional tasks in policy and advocacy careers: 

You are viewing a job simulation. To get started, set up SMART Goals to perform this simulation in a reasonable timeline. If you have completed the task, fill out the Self-Reflection Sheet.

Simulation authors – Adriana Bankston, PhD, CEO & Managing Publisher, Journal of Science Policy & Governance and Harinder Singh, PhD, Program Director, Graduate Professional Success in STEM at UC Irvine

Citation and Contact info:

This job sim is based on the original curriculum for the 2020 Science Policy and Advocacy for STEM Scientists Certificate Program at UC Irvine, organized in conjunction with the Journal of Science Policy & Governance, Ridge to Reef, and Union of Concerned Scientists. 

If you’re setting up your own science policy and advocacy course based on this model and have questions, please contact Dr. Adriana Bankston at

If using any original course content from this job sim, please ensure proper attribution as follows: Bankston, A., Singh H. (2020). Science Policy and Advocacy for STEM Scientists Certificate Program. UC Irvine, Irvine, CA.