Why FAS Adjunct Fellowships Matter

It is hard to believe that it has been almost two years since I accepted an Adjunct Fellow role here at FAS. To be honest, my time at FAS has far exceeded any of my expectations. So, I wanted to take a brief moment to reflect on the last two years and, in so doing, make the case for others to consider serving in similar roles in the future.

One of the most important benefits of being at FAS has been the opportunity to engage in global policy debates surrounding two specific topics: 1) emerging security; 2) regional security in East Asia. During the last two years, I was invited to join Track 1.5 and Track 2 initiatives on emerging security issues, attend off-the-record expert exchanges on the future of regional security in East Asia, and participate in next generation foreign policy leadership exchanges in Asia, Europe, and North America. I was also given the opportunity to publish numerous articles in the journals of leading think tanks and provide commentary to international media outlets.

Reflecting upon these milestones, I can assure you that these benefits were of great professional value. They not only helped build my own brand as an expert on these issues but they also: 1) Widened and deepened my knowledge about contemporary security issues; 2) Expanded my global network of contacts working on converging and space technologies; 3) Amplified the reach and impact of my insights on these topics.

But, there were also a number of indirect benefits that often get overlooked. So, I wanted to briefly jot down a few for those considering an adjunct fellowship in the future.

By far the most important was the chance to work with Mark Jansson and Charles Ferguson, who have always supported my professional ambitions within and beyond FAS. In fact, both are now involved in a nonprofit that I founded a few years ago to focus on emerging security issues beyond the domain of WMD. As a consequence, I will have the opportunity to continue to work with them for years to come. And, for this, I remain deeply grateful, as they are true champions for science diplomacy.

Another benefit of my affiliation is that it has enabled my consulting agency to expand into new subject matter areas as a direct result of the knowledge and skills gained under my FAS fellowship. There is no doubt that serving as an unpaid adjunct fellow entails certain sunk costs. These are particular burdensome for those in the private sector who find it difficult to justify the time commitment to their management. However, my experience shows that such affiliations can still benefit those in the private sector. By allowing for such affiliations, business leaders not only illustrate the firm’s commitment to corporate citizenship but also provide its employees with new opportunities to expand their knowledge about contemporary security issues. They also ensure that the business sector maintain a vocal presence on policy issues that will inevitably affect their business interest alongside their country’s national security environment.

While the list of indirect benefits is long, I will only mention one more today. And, this is the benefit for career transition. In my case, I was leaving media after working as a foreign policy commentator and foreign correspondent for the last five years. Serving as an adjunct fellow at FAS provided an opportunity to reposition myself within the global ecosystem of experts on my chosen topics. When I started my fellowship, most of my colleagues in the think tank community identified me as a journalist or commentator. However, two years later, many have come to accept me as a member of the global think tank community. This was evident when I was recently introduced as a “policy wonk” in Tokyo. I owe this new socially constructed role in the expert ecosystem solely to my affiliation with FAS.

In closing, I would like to first express my gratitude to FAS for all that my fellowship has provided, including all of friendships and professional relationships that will endure well beyond my two year fellowship. FAS is like a family and you have always made me feel welcome throughout my fellowship. I also would like to thank those who have contributed to FAS and made my fellowship possible. Finally, I would like to challenge others to consider serving as Adjunct Fellows at FAS as well. The organization provides a platform unlike any other for you to make a policy impact on nuclear and nuclear-related security issues.

From my perspective, it is so important for those with expertise on these issues to contribute to the global discourse on nuclear and nuclear-related security policy. This is especially true of scientists and business leaders whose unique perspective on these issues help to inform policymakers of the real costs and benefits of policy decisions under consideration. It is therefore critical that these actors do not abdicate their own agency on these issues. For, if they do, security at all levels of analysis will be weakened by security policy decision-making that fails to take account for the full spectrum of interests impacted by science and technology policies. I therefore urge those who support the great work of FAS to continue doing so and for those who are considering an adjunct fellowship to put their name forward. Your efforts are making a difference in the world we live in today and the world that our children will inherit tomorrow.

Michael Edward Walsh has served as an Adjunct Fellow at the Federation of American Scientists since 2012. In a few weeks, he will be leaving FAS to focus on other professional commitments. He can be followed on Twitter at @aseanreporting.

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