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ASU master's degree and doctorate grads encouraged to apply for Presidential Management Fellows Program

Brian Johnson

Brian Johnson, who received a PhD in biological design from ASU in 2018, is a Presidential Management Fellow at the National Institutes of Health.

October 08, 2020

Are you an Arizona State University student who has recently completed a master’s or doctoral degree? Are you interested in working in a United States federal agency?

The Presidential Management Fellows Program may be for you.

Joshua Brooks, from the Arizona State University Office of Distinguished Graduate Fellowships in the Graduate College and the Office of National Scholarship Advisement at Barrett, The Honors College, is seeking applicants for the program.

“This is a great opportunity to fast-track into employment positions in federal agencies. It is a very elite program,” Brooks said.

“The federal government provides a very attractive, secure option” for employment, he added.

The Presidential Management Fellows Program is a fellowship that pipelines newly graduated U.S. master's and doctoral degree students into executive positions in federal agencies.

It is a well-compensated, two-year training and leadership program administered by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Agencies seek to convert participants in the program to permanent federal civilian executive employees. Positions are available in federal agency offices across the U.S.

ASU alumni who have completed the PMF program work at the NASA, the National Institutes of Health, the United States Agency for International Development, and multiple other agencies, Brooks said.

The deadline to apply for the program is Oct. 14.

Brooks said the application, which includes an assessment and requires a resume, education transcripts, and other pertinent information, can be completed online in about four hours.

“The most important thing applicants can do is follow the bureaucratic elements of the application explicitly. You must follow application instructions to a T,” Brooks said.

Information about the application is at Presidential Management Fellows at ASU - Guidance & Resources, Fall 2020.  Applicants must be logged in to their ASU-branded Google accounts to be able to access the information.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management reviews applications and, within a month to six weeks of the application date, informs finalists who will be considered for the program.

Brooks said his office is offering advising and mentoring to those from ASU who are chosen as program finalists.

ASU alums – including several from Barrett Honors College — who completed the PMF program and who are now working in federal agencies will serve as mentors to the finalists, helping them “get attached to the agency they are interested in,” Brooks said.

Those selected to participate in the PMF program receive:

  • The full salary and benefits that come with executive employment in a federal agency.
  • A two-year appointment that will provide a fast-paced opportunity to gain experience and develop talents. In addition to working at a single federal agency, participants may have the option of rotating through another agency.
  • 160 hours of formal training in leadership, management, policy and other topics.
  • Challenging work assignments and in-depth feedback.
  • At least one four- to six-month development assignment.
  • Upon completion of the program, immediate noncompetitive conversion to a permanent or term position.

In order to be eligible for the program applicants must:

  • Generally be U.S. citizens, except under certain very rare circumstances.
  • Have completed advanced degree requirements by Aug. 31 of the year following the annual application. An advanced degree is any master’s, doctorate or professional doctorate. Those who have completed an advanced degree during the previous two years from the opening date of the PMF Program’s annual application announcement are eligible to apply. 

For more information about the program, contact Brooks at

Brian Johnson: A look at the PMF program from the inside

Brian Johnson graduated ASU with a Bachelor of Science in molecular bioscience and biotechnology with a minor in philosophy and honors from Barrett, The Honors College. He earned a PhD in biological design from ASU in 2018.

He is currently participating in the Presidential Management Fellow Program at the National Institutes of Health.

Johnson took out time to explain how he is progressing and give an insider’s look at the program. Here is what he had to say.

Question: How did you become interested in the PMF program?

Answer: As I was nearing graduation I was exploring opportunities outside of the traditional academic career track, including the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowship program. The AAAS website listed similar programs that applicants might be interested in, including the PMF program. I was especially drawn to the PMF program because of the opportunities for leadership training. I co-founded a not-for-profit corporation several years ago, and my experiences there had made me interested in further developing these skills beyond the “winging it” I had been doing up to that point!

Q: Which agency do you work with? What do you do there?

A: I am at the National Institutes of Health, specifically the National Cancer Institute. Rather than being assigned to a single office, I am instead completing four four- to six-month rotations at NCI offices and one external rotation as mandated by the PMF program. I have completed two rotations so far and am currently in my third.

The first rotation was at the Coordinating Center for Clinical Trials, where I worked as an analyst to help develop tools to facilitate analyzing the portfolio of clinical trials that NCI supports.

My second rotation was the external one mandated by the PMF program. This was at the Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Research Integrity. This office is responsible for overseeing investigations of allegations of research misconduct in HHS-supported grants. During this assignment my main project was developing guidance to support institutions in carrying out their investigations.

Finally, I am currently at the NCI Office of Budget and Finance, where I have participated in the work to ensure that final NCI budget for the fiscal year matches what was mandated by Congress in the federal budget.

I should note that while the PMF program mandates the external rotation, not all agencies allow fellows to rotate in multiple internal offices as mine has; it is generally more common for a fellow to spend the majority of their time in one office for the duration of the program (outside of their external experience).

Q: What has your experience in the program been like so far?

A: It has been fabulous! This program has given me the opportunity to learn and grow in new areas while at the same time contributing my own knowledge and expertise to the offices I have worked in.

The PMF program officials and the PMF coordinators at NIH and NCI clearly care deeply about the program, and have put a lot of effort into making these two years as impactful as possible for both the fellows and the offices that hire them. My fellow PMFs are a wonderful group of people, and it has been a privilege getting to know them.

Q: What position might you take after completing the PMF program?

A: I will likely pursue a role as an analyst of some kind as I have been enjoying this kind of work.

Q: Would you recommend the program? Why?

A: Absolutely, without reservation. When I found out that I had been selected by the NCI, I was a bit nervous at first as this experience would be very different from anything I had done up to that point and I was worried about my own ability to adapt to such a huge shift. However, everyone that I have worked with has been incredibly supportive, and I have found myself loving the work.

When I complete the program I have every intention to remain as a permanent federal employee, and the PMF program has opened so many doors to make this possible.

Q: What advice do you have for students who may be interested in applying to the PMF?

A: Really spend some time thinking about what you specifically want to get out of the program, and what you in turn can contribute to it.

Remember that the ultimate goal of the PMF program is to build the next generation of leaders in government. Any leadership experiences you can demonstrate, such as at volunteer organizations or student government, can be a big help.

Although your technical knowledge is important and valued, I’ve spent more time discussing my experiences outside of the lab than my dissertation research.

Q: Anything else you would like to add?

A: The PMF program has existed since the '70s. This means that you are likely to encounter many people who either are or who have worked with PMFs – especially in agencies that tend to bring in many fellows, such as NIH. This means that the program is fairly well known and can be a great tool for networking.

One of the best aspects of being at PMF at NIH is that I have had a lot of opportunities to connect with people across the institutes. Simply emailing someone saying, “I’m a PMF and am new to government and want to learn more about what you do,” has allowed me meet some incredible people, observe the hiring process for a senior executive position, and even tour a manufacturing facility while it was down for annual maintenance.

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