James Ward: Case study

at University of Leeds

NERC-funded Policy Intern (January 2019 – April 2019)
PhD Student, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds

“I cannot speak highly enough of my time at the Centre for Science and Policy and I would enthusiastically recommend an internship with CSaP to anyone. The real value of the internship is the exposure to conversations between policy makers and academics. Through these conversations, my perspective of policy making has definitely changed.”


Before coming to the Centre for Science and Policy, I didn’t have a clear picture of how I could use my expertise as a scientist to contribute to the broad challenges facing society. My PhD is based on understanding the Earth’s internal structure using waves generated by earthquakes. Surprisingly enough, this doesn’t have many obvious connections with the world of policy. Despite this, I wanted to know how science and policy interacted generally and if there was a place for someone with my skillset. Ultimately, I wanted to know if it was for me or not, so I decided to apply and gain some experience. I am very glad I did so and my time at CSaP has changed my perspective on science and policy completely.

Initial impressions

From the first day, the social and dynamic environment of CSaP was very obvious. I immediately felt welcome with everyone taking a genuine interest in what I was doing, my PhD and how I was settling in. The stand-out memory of my first day was the CEO marching into my office to welcome me to the centre with a thorough and engaging conversation about my background and what I really wanted to get out of the internship.

This social feeling of CSaP continued throughout my time there and, looking back, is one of my fondest memories of CSaP. Day two of the internship introduced me to a major aspect of CSaP – roundtable discussions, policy workshops and professional development workshops. I went along to a workshop about how technology can be used to aid an aging population. The moment I read the attendees list it was obvious I had networking opportunities in such a diverse range of people I simply wouldn’t get anywhere else. From quite an early stage I feel I made the right choice in going to CSaP.

The work

I was in a bit of a unique position where my quantitative science training allowed me to help with a data analysis project. The project was very enjoyable, and I hope will be developed by future interns. Other than this, I balanced my time between:

  • Writing news articles of the events I had been to
  • Contacting speakers and organising events
  • Researching a policy field for a report or activities for workshops
  • Organising and conducting interviews with CSaP Policy Fellows
  • Shadowing meetings with CSaP Policy Leader Fellows.
  • Writing case studies.

I’d like to highlight one of the best parts of the internship; the flexibility of the work I could do. If I wanted to interview someone in CSaP’s network, they were more than happy to let me do so. I feel this is what made the internship unique; the network CSaP has across Whitehall departments, academic institutes and other organisations working in the public sector is second to none.


The following describe a couple of the events that stood out to me:

Christ’s Climate Seminar Series aims to bring academic expertise on climate change to a public audience through several public lectures. Being very interested in the climate change challenge, I was very enthusiastic to attend and write articles about each of the seminars. The series focussed on the political and social aspects of the climate issue rather than the common message of the technical challenges. This series showed me how a policy issue isn’t as simple as “the science says this is the solution, so do it”, there are other aspects to consider and limitations on how quickly change can come about.

The other event was a professional development workshop for NERC funded early career researchers. When I arrived at CSaP, the workshop was in the early stages of being organised. Because the workshop was for NERC-funded early career researchers and, as I am a NERC-funded PhD student, I was an ideal candidate to help organise the event. The aim was for the attendees to gain some exposure to the world of policy through speakers of a variety of backgrounds and activities discussing policy questions and challenges. This was a thoroughly enjoyable experience which offered challenge to be creative with choosing speakers, researching relevant policy topics and activities for the day.

For the sake of brevity, I’ll stop at those two events, but I could go on.

In conclusion...

My time at CSaP provided value in several ways. The exposure to a variety of senior policy makers provided a better understanding of how science policy works. Moving and working in a different environment with new people was an invaluable experience that taught me a lot about how I work. After returning to the PhD and reading what I had previously written, I feel I have developed new skills and improved some existing ones too. Finally, it must be said, it is great fun working at CSaP.