Inside the FBI: Serving with STEM at the FBI
November 15, 2017
The FBI offers various career opportunities for individuals with backgrounds in science, technology, engineering, and math, and those with these skills play critical roles in FBI investigations.
Mollie Halpern: By the young age of 11, Amy Hess already knew her dream job.
Actually, she had two.
Amy Hess: As long as I can remember, I wanted to be either an FBI agent or an astronaut.
Halpern: With an aptitude in science, Amy eventually pursued a degree in aeronautical and astronautical engineering.
Hess: I had no idea the FBI was even interested in STEM people like me until I was in grad school, and that’s when I applied, and I was accepted into an agent position, which was my dream come true.
Halpern: Just like Amy, many people with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM, backgrounds aren’t aware, at first, that the FBI offers career opportunities for them.
Special Agent Avatar Lefevre and his team want to change that.
Lefevre is the chief of the Priority Threat Selection Processing Unit, which focuses on critical and specialty hiring—that includes bringing STEM professionals into the FBI.
Avatar Lefevre: The FBI, we’re built on agents, that’s really what everybody knows about us. Agents go out and do a great job every day, and we’re needed here, without question. But in reality, agents are only one-third of the total work force. The remaining two-thirds—about 24,000 people—are professional staff.
Halpern: Professional staff work hand-in-hand with agents in roles such as...
Avatar Lefevre: We have computer scientist positions, computer engineering, information technology specialists, forensic examiners, visual examiners, electronics technicians, electronics engineers. We actually are just starting a couple new positions focused in the data analytics area—data analyst, data scientist, digital operational specialist.
Halpern: In these positions—whether it’s working out of offices like the FBI’s renowned Laboratory, Cyber Division, Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate, or the Information Technology Enterprise Services Division—STEM professionals play critical roles in investigations.
This is especially significant in a time when threats are rapidly evolving as criminals and terrorists abuse advancements in science and technology to carry out their operations.
STEM employees at the FBI can apply their expertise—and use the Bureau’s state-of-the-art equipment—to overcome, counter, and stay ahead of these sophisticated threats.
Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics pervades the Bureau’s work.
Amy experienced this as the executive assistant director of the Science and Technology Branch, or STB—which she says is a highlight of her career.
Hess: There is not a case that happens today that is not in some way impacted by science and technology... so the things that happen, for example, in the Science and Technology Branch, impacted every single case that was happening in the FBI. That just shows the impact that you can make whether you’re a technologist, an engineer, a mathematician, a computer scientist, a biological scientist, a chemist. It doesn’t matter. If you come with a STEM background, you could be working on anything the Bureau is involved in.
Halpern: And in doing so, STEM professionals further the FBI’s mission of protecting the American people and upholding the U.S. Constitution.
Lefevre: So, the truth is, if you came on board with the FBI as a computer scientist or an engineer you would likely be doing the same kind of work that you’d be doing in any other Fortune 500 company anywhere. The difference is the outcome. We’re not working to improve the bottom line, to get the stock higher; you’re working to defend the American people. To either solve a case or preemptively stop a terrorist or intelligence threat. What you’re doing is actually affecting the greater good—the entire nation and all of its people.
Halpern: While public service may not be able to compete with the private sector in regard to compensation, it’s the mission that makes the FBI so appealing.
Lefevre: What we can offer are a few things that are really tangible. Number one, you get an experience you’re not going to get anywhere else. In the FBI, you’re going to actually see the physical results of what you’ve done. If what you’ve done analyzing the geo-tags on a picture end up finding a child that’s been kidnapped or identifying the location of a terrorist who’s plotting an attack because you’re the best technical person who could handle that, those are things that literally are right in front of you, that you know you’re a part of, that you know you contributed to. That really means something to a lot of people.
Halpern: Bringing top talent in the STEM academic disciplines to the FBI is a priority.
Opportunities exist for recent graduates with STEM degrees, as well as those in mid- and senior-level careers.
The FBI even offers STEM-related educational programs for children as young as third grade, so they can start thinking about a career in STEM just like Amy did when she was their age.
Amy was able to combine two passions into one career and encourages others to pursue their dreams.
Hess: I’d say if you’re drawn to a life of public service and believe in our mission, don’t be disuaded by perceived barriers or social norms, because the FBI needs people from all backgrounds, all educational backgrounds, all cultural backgrounds, ethnicities, gender to come into the organization because they bring a diversity of thought and opinions and input and creative ideas and talent, which collectively makes us stronger, makes us better, makes us smarter, and we’re better able to connect to the people we serve.
Lefevre: One of the great things about working for the FBI, whether you’re an agent, intelligence analyst, or in the STEM field or accounting or any of the multitude of positions we have, is that you know what you are doing makes a difference. You can see it, you can feel it, you’re part of the community that you’re affecting and you’re never going to forget that, no matter where you’re going end up in your career or your personal life. As an agent, I can attest to this. At the end of an investigation, I know that I‘ve put the bad guys in jail, I’ve served my country, and that’s the rewarding part for me.
Halpern: If you’re interested in a rewarding career at the FBI in STEM and other career paths, visit fbijobs.gov.
There, you can find out about outreach and recruiting events and requirements for current vacancies.
Thanks for listening to Inside the FBI. I’m Mollie Halpern of the Bureau.
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