Landing a Post-Doc Fellowship to Impact Social Change

Dr. Jacqueline D. Smith is a 2020 Doctor of Education (EdD) alumna with a specialization in Higher Education Leadership and Management and experience as a part-time faculty at a state university.  She holds both a Master of Science in Criminal Justice and a Master of Business Administration and brings many years of experience as a police officer, supervisor, and advisor to international executive policing agencies.  She retired fully from sworn policing in 2020 to pursue her passion for teaching, policy work, and impacting social change on a broader level.

Dr. Smith recently landed a competitive one-year post-doc fellowship at a government agency. She shares her insights into the post-doc fellowship process and tips on preparing for post-doc fellowship opportunities.

Tell us about the post-doc fellowship you will be starting.

My post-doc fellowship will involve recruiting scientists and researchers from all over the U.S. to join a government agency to transform our understanding of nature and advance the energy, economic, and national security of the United States. I will also be applying my educational experiences in teaching, strategic planning, and social justice to provide training on diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility with the goal of recruiting from the broadest possible pool of STEM talents to work in areas of climate change and environmental justice.

How did you happen to find the post-doc fellowship opportunity?

I have been researching post-doc fellowships that were more aligned with my background, such as police and education reform at government agencies. As I used keywords in my Google search, I saw this post-doc that entailed working with the executive and judicial branches of government. While searching for post-doc fellowships, I received a notification from this non-profit organization that matches fellows with several government agencies, including an agency specializing in police and education reform. After researching further, I realized that many of the skills that I gained through my life experiences, policing, and education also could be transferred to the scientific and technological sphere of climate and environmental policy. Such skills included my research expertise, facilitation and training skill sets, and my aptitude for evidence-based knowledge; they were the vital recipe for the application. I decided to apply (with a prayerful request) and see what would happen.

What contributed to you being selected for the post-doc fellowship?

The post-doc fellowship requires that applicants:

  • Hold a doctoral-level degree in education, social, or behavioral sciences by the time of placement;
  • Be willing to have a common interest in learning about science policy and a willingness to apply your technical training in a new arena;
  • Be willing to be placed outside your comfort zone in one of the three branches of the federal government;
  • Exhibit a commitment to serve society;
  • Demonstrate strong communication skills, integrity, problem-solving ability, good judgment, flexibility, and leadership qualities; and,
  • Hold U.S. Citizenship.

I was asked to provide a 5-minute video presentation on what I was most passionate about and how I would contribute to policy change. This request was followed by a 30-minute panel interview with agency leaders. 

To prepare, I met with a Walden University career advisor who reviewed and discussed key points specific to the position for me to highlight in my cover letter and curriculum vitae (CV). The advisor referred me to additional resources on cover letters, CV writing, and creating an effective video interview. These resources helped me tremendously with my application process.  I made a positive first impression and effectively used my communication skills to convey how I would use the fellowship role to bring positive social change.

I also believe that I was able to stand out from other candidates through strong recommendation letters.  I reached out to a supervisor from my experiences in policing, another colleague who observed me as an instructor and facilitator, and my dear Walden dissertation chair.  My references supported me with glowing recommendation letters that spoke truth to my strong work ethic, character, and integrity.

About a week after my interview, I received confirmation that my post-doc fellowship application was accepted. The next step involved completing general training and participating in a week-long matching process between the selected fellows and various government agencies.  I ranked my favorite agencies, and they also ranked me until there was a “match,” and I was selected for the agency that was the best fit.

What additional resources and strategies helped you through the process?

Working with a Walden University career advisor and reviewing cover letter and resume samples in the SkillsFirst career management system helped me highlight what I could bring to the table as a post-doc fellow.  I was surprised by the number of samples that were available in SkillsFirst; I was able to find federal cover letter and resume samples that closely matched my experience and background, and I adapted them for the post-doc fellowship opportunity.

Also, learning interviewing techniques and practicing speaking on camera helped me deliver my 5-minute video presentation to the second. This step was followed by 30 minutes of interacting with the panel interviewers virtually. Honestly, I thought I knew how to approach virtual interviews from my prior job searches, but learning more from Walden University’s Career Planning and Development resources on virtual interviewing helped me with these tips:

  • Position my video camera to view all panel members,
  • Set up a neutral background with limited to no distractions, and
  • Speak audibly and with clarity to the interviewers as if I were physically there in front of them.

Later, I had an opportunity to meet one of my interviewers who told me how impressed she was with my interview, cover letter, and CV. She said that, during the video interview, I was able to convey the passion I had for evidence-based decision-making and social change, and that my background in policing and education would bring a unique and fresh perspective to the science and technology policy space.

What final thoughts would you like to share with Walden students and alumni?

I would say, take time to research government agencies and other types of organizations where you can pursue your interests and passions. Stay open-minded and consider the skills and experience you bring from prior roles that add value to organizations. Also, take advantage of the resources on the Career Planning and Development website to create a strong CV and supportive cover letter, prepare for interviews (in-person or virtual), and learn about the application process for a federal job. 

Finally, I would like to share that the post-doc fellowship opportunity came to me at a time when I was feeling really low because I heard so many “no’s” from applying for federal job opportunities. For those of you who are job searching, you need to believe that you have the academic knowledge, skills, and ability to make a difference. Don’t give up and don’t give in because every “no” leads you closer to a “yes.” I also want to conclude by saying that, when you get to the “yes,” be ready for it.  Believe that you have it in you to shine and to make a positive difference in the world.

Ready to turn Dr. Smith’s advice into action?  Start by reviewing the following resources:
Career Exploration tab
(includes Government employment resources)
Blog Article: The Federal Hiring Process
SkillsFirst information
(use this system to build federal resumes and letter samples)
Interviews tab
Blog Article: Prepare for a Variety of Interview Formats
Letter of recommendation requests
Doctoral Resources page

Contributed by Jacqueline D. Smith, Walden EdD Alumna

Edited by Dina Bergren, Manager, Career Planning and Development