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Air Force Research – Career Perspective

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Job Structure and Salary

Government salary structure is based primarily on the GS (Government Service) rating for a position. I make just under $100,000 as a top-level GS-15, including bonuses. Starting salary in government for a new program manager will depend somewhat on experience and academic discipline, but I think we occasionally hire at the GS-12 level, which makes $40,000 to $50,000 annually. Top salary for higher level managers, Senior Executive Service, in my chain is from $120,000 to $130,000, but the nature of their job is completely different; they manage the managers of science.

There are many opportunities for advancement and for lateral job moves, but none are in program management. For example, my boss moved from program manager (PM) to director of the Directorate of Chemistry and Life Sciences. He has 7 PMs working for him, and we manage the programs while he manages us. His job description reads as follows: Plan, direct, evaluate and coordinate the $50 million Air Force basic research program in the fields of chemistry and life sciences, encompassing such highly specialized areas as organic, inorganic, and theoretical chemistry and physiology, toxicology, biochemistry, molecular biology, neuroscience, biophysics, and human engineering. Responsible for all operational, policy, and programmatic activities of the directorate, including all United States Air Force basic research in these areas, about 250 grants to AF laboratories, industry, and academia. Ensure that scientific merit is high and that goals are relevant to long-term Air Force needs. Encourage familiarity and promote appropriate integration of basic research into Air Force and other DOD applied research and development programs. First level supervisor/leader to Directorate Program Managers, all highly respected senior level scientists.

I have also held a number of other "lateral" government positions, some as training assignments and some because I actually changed jobs. These positions were primarily headquarters-type staff management positions that included developing policy and defending budgets, and staff management of large programs of research. For example, in 19841 transferred to Headquarters, Air Force Systems Command, at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, where I spent 6 years in a variety of staff positions with increasing levels of responsibility and authority.

Headquarters staffers spend most of their time explaining and defending programs throughout the DOD and Congressional budget cycles. I was responsible for a variety of basic and applied research and development programs, all vaguely related to the scientific disciplines I studied as a graduate student and a post-doc.

I also spent about a year in the Pentagon working in Program Integration and Strategic Planning for the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition. This was a fun job. The office was a small, very tightly knit group of people, including one Air Force officer, one Navy officer, one Army officer, one Defense Intelligence guy, one Central Intelligence guy, one civilian who came from the National Security Council, and me.

Half of us had scientific and technical backgrounds, half of us had strong history and political science backgrounds. Our role was to integrate information about world events and develop both short and long-range Department of Defense acquisition policy. We represented the Undersecretary in situations where national policy questions impact military acquisition programs in more than one specific technical area. For example, we integrated classified and open source inputs and we wrote the technology sections of President Bush's first major National Security Review. I also developed the congressionally mandated plan to use Department of Defense technological resources to help implement the President's national strategy to control the use of illegal drugs. It was great fun, and I learned so much.

Where Can You Go From Here?

There are a number of possibilities in industry, in academia, and in other government or quasi-government agencies. Large industries that deal with the government are often eager to hire an individual whose knowledge and contacts might help them. I am not referring to anything dishonest here. Companies are eager to have on board folks who know their way around the military acquisition of science and technology, and of systems.

There are also opportunities in the so-called "beltway bandits," or think tanks around Washington. Many of the military folk who retired from AFOSR have taken university positions such as dean of research or provost.

A few have actually gone back to university teaching and research positions. There are always opportunities within other government agencies; I've seen advertisements from the General Accounting Office, the Office of Management and Budgeting, and from the Library of Congress, and even the Smithsonian Institute, for which I have exactly the experience requested. It would also be possible and very interesting, to become a congressional committee staffer. There is a government program for young and eager employees of the executive branch to work "on the Hill" for a year or two.

What Opportunities Exist In The Military?

The United States Air Force is a large organization, and only a very small proportion of it is dedicated to science. The Air Force Office of Scientific Research is responsible for all of the basic research supported by the Air Force, whether at a university, within industry, or in a government laboratory. At the moment we have about 40 program managers. We seldom employ more than one scientist from a particular specialty area. Areas in which we currently have research programs include: structural materials, mechanics of materials, particulate mechanics, external aerodynamics and hypersonics, turbulence and internal flows, air breathing combustion, space power and propulsion, metallic structural materials, ceramics and non-metallic structural materials, organic matrix composites, electromagnetic devices, novel electronic components, optoelectronic information processing, quantum electronic solids, semiconductor metals, electromagnetic materials, photonic physics, plasma physics, imaging physics, chemical reactivity and synthesis, polymer chemistry, surface science, molecular dynamics, chronology and neural adaptation, perception and cognition, sensory systems, bioenvironmental science, dynamics and control, physical mathematics and applied analysis, computational mathematics, optimization and discrete mathematics, signal processing, probability and statistics, software and systems, artificial intelligence, electro-magnetics, meteorology, and space sciences. These areas do change from year to year and can be found listed on the Web at
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