NERC-funded Policy Intern (January 2017 – April 2017)
PhD Candidate, Centre for Atmospheric Science, Department of Chemistry, University of Cambridge
I was placed at the Centre for Science and Policy for a three month policy internship through the Research Councils UK Policy Internship Scheme which provides NERC funded PhD students the opportunity to work with an influential policy organisation.
When I applied for the internship, I was in the third year of my PhD in atmospheric chemistry studying the composition and formation of secondary organic aerosol at the Department of Chemistry at the University of Cambridge. Working in an area of research which naturally lends itself to informing policy on climate change and air quality, I wanted to experience the science-policy interface and see how research influences policy first hand.
My first task was to helping organise and run the annual climate seminar series, ‘In it for the long run: A series of events on tackling climate change’, with the first seminar due to happen the following week after I started. The series was jointly organised by CSaP and Professor Charles Kennel; Director emeritus at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and was hosted at Christ’s College, Cambridge. Helping organise these seminars was a fantastic experience and remains one of my highlights during my internship. I was very lucky to be able to meet and converse with world renowned academics in climate change research, some of whom were actively involved with influencing policy and also policy makers from the UK government who were trying to implement climate change mitigation strategies.
CSaP organises policy workshops for policy professionals to discuss specific issues with researchers. I was involved with co-organising many different workshops during my internship, covering a range of different topics completely unrelated to my PhD research including next generation internet and smart infrastructure. One of these which I thoroughly enjoyed was for the Government Office of Science to aid their Foresight Project into the future of mobility in the UK. This workshop brought together academics researching such areas as age related mobility, road freight development and transport technologies, and promoted discussion of the social and demographic trends surrounding mobility and the drivers likely to influence travel behaviour in the future. Having previously seen and participated in discussions between academics, it was interesting to see how these discussions focus much more quickly when there are specific questions set out by the policy makers.
Another highlight for me was organising a professional development workshop for early career environmental scientists at Cambridge to give them an insight into how their research can influence policy and how policy makers use academic expertise. I designed a policy challenge for the workshop where attendees discussed a proposed scheme to restore Arctic sea ice, and presented their deliberations to one of the policy maker panellists. This allowed them to experience the role of civil servants, presenting policy issues to government ministers. This workshop received excellent feedback from the attendees and it was very rewarding to hear policy professionals and my peers discuss a topic which I am very interested in.
An important aspect of my internship was preparing reports, case studies and news articles on the events I organised and attended. I feel this greatly improved my ability to write in a concise, clear manner, particularly on subjects I am unfamiliar with, and has been extremely useful for writing my PhD thesis. I attended talks and discussions led by CSaP’s Policy Fellows covering areas such as devolution politics and social cohesion, as well as sitting in on discussions with policy professionals to develop their Policy Fellowship programme. I also participated in the Science and Technology Studies reading and discussion group at CSaP which introduced me to the concept of responsible innovation and considering this in policy. An exciting extra was attending a conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, for early career researchers participating in the VILLUM Young Investigators Programme, to help deliver a workshop on the challenges of research and measures of success.
Not only have I benefited from the many networking opportunities my internship provided but also the event management experience and science communication through the use of social media to promote events I helped organise and articles I prepared. I was given an excellent opportunity to think about scientific research from the policy perspective and how it should be presented to policy professionals to implement change. I will use what I learnt to help focus my research and always have policy relevance in mind for my future work.