American Psychological Association (APA) Executive Branch Science Fellow Sarah Johnson, Ph.D.
Admittedly, before I went through the placement process to determine where I would spend my fellowship year, I didn't know much about OBSSR. Indeed, I didn't really know that much about NIH. I am a social psychologist by training, with a background in basic behavioral science-a field that has recently received special attention at the NIH with the birth of OppNet, the Basic Behavioral and Social Science Opportunity Network. I was excited and proud to join the Office that facilitates this initiative.
The mission of the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR) at NIH is to facilitate and stimulate behavioral and social sciences research at NIH. The Office works to achieve this goal in a variety of ways, and I'll share a few of my experiences that demonstrate this range. One of the primary mechanisms by which OBSSR accomplishes its mission is by supporting its research community through various capacity building activities. The Office conducts several different training institutes for investigators. Typically held in the summer, these are 5 to 10 day intensive trainings for a small group of investigators selected through a competitive application process.
Throughout its history, OBSSR has conducted many training institutes-some of them recurring annually for years. When I arrived in September 2010, the Office was beginning to develop a new one-the Training Institute on Dissemination and Implementation Research in Health (TIDIRH), led by OBSSR Senior Advisor, Helen Meissner, ScM, PhD. I got involved in this project as it was getting off the ground, and it soon became my primary activity in the office. Over the course of the year, I participated in the development, organization and coordination of the institute from beginning to end. The institute was held at the beginning of August 2011, and it was gratifying to see it come to life!
In addition to capacity building, OBSSR pursues its mission through highlighting new achievements or emerging areas of research in the behavioral and social sciences. To this end, OBSSR hosts a lecture series and an annual award lecture, bringing nationally-recognized behavioral and social scientists to share their work with the NIH community. The Office also communicates with the extramural research community by organizing special issues or journal supplements as a means to shining light on a topic or research problem. I had the opportunity to work on one such effort, helping to launch the development of a special issue for the As the 2010-2011 American Psychological Association (APA) Executive Branch Science Fellow, I have spent the past year working alongside the staff of the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR) at NIH. Even before I had completed graduate school, I had my sights set on doing this fellowship. Knowing that I wanted a career at the nexus of research and policy-but having little idea what that actually meant-I saw this fellowship as a valuable and unique opportunity to come to D.C. and see, firsthand, what it's all about.
American Journal of Public Health. Working with OBSSR colleagues, Kay Wanke, Ph.D. , MPH and Mike Spittel, Ph.D. and NIDA colleague, Bethany Deeds, Ph.D. , we conceptualized a forthcoming special issue intended to highlight the integration of genetics with behavioral and social science research in health. It has been especially exciting for me to be a part of this project and to experience for myself the power of NIH to convene the nation's greatest scientists.
Finally, one of the most important functions of OBSSR is serving as a liaison. Situated in the office of the Director, the Office coordinates efforts relevant to behavioral and social sciences across the 27 Institutes and Centers of NIH. As such, OBSSR is represented on many trans-NIH working groups and committees. In my time here, I represented OBSSR on a couple of these committees, including the NIH Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Research Coordinating Committee. I was particularly excited to participate in this group, tasked with developing NIH's response to the recently released Institute of Medicine report on the health status of LGBT Americans.
As I've reflected on my year at OBSSR, I have come to think of the fellowship as an immersion program-an opportunity to learn about another way of life by living it. In my case, that meant leaving the comfort zone of a psychology research lab and jumping into the wilderness of a federal funding agency. The adjustment included learning a new language--supplanting my native tongue (social psychological jargon) with one seemingly consisting mostly of acronyms! And as with any immersion program, it had a steep learning curve. And so I conclude my fellowship year having acquired more knowledge in more areas than I could have imagined. I'm happy to report, however, that I am taking with me more than just the knowledge (and vocabulary of acronyms) I've acquired. Instead, I come away from my time here with a great appreciation for the opportunities afforded by the NIH and, moreover, for the people creating those opportunities. I have been struck by my overwhelmingly positive experience with the people I encountered here, inspired by their dedication and commitment. As a behavioral scientist, and as a citizen, this has been a thoroughly enriching experience.
I take these lessons with me as I move on to my next step: I will be joining the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products as a social scientist in the Office of Science. In this position, I will contribute to research that will inform and evaluate new tobacco regulation. I'm thrilled for the opportunity to use my behavioral science research training to positively impact public health-exactly the kind of opportunity I had in mind when I first set my sights on coming to work in D.C.