Matthew McGuire: Case study

at Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge

ESRC Policy Intern (Oct 2015 – Jan 2016)
PhD student, Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge
Incoming Fast Streamer (autumn 2016), UK Civil Service

“I found that working as a CSaP policy intern opened up a whole different world, and gave me the tools and confidence to take ownership of my future career. It helped me to make a decision about my career and in the autumn of 2016, I will start work in the Civil Service.”

I was just beginning the second draft of my PhD when I heard about the CSaP internship through the ESRC Doctoral Training Centre at Cambridge. I applied more or less on a whim and soon found myself in the CSaP offices being introduced to staff members.

I had been thinking a lot about my future career and whether or not I wanted to pursue academia or look elsewhere. The thesis had been tough, and I was having a bit of a crisis of confidence. This, I thought, would be a perfect interlude, a chance to get some distance on my research. Instead, I found that working as a policy intern opened up a whole different world, and gave me the tools and confidence to take ownership of my future career.

I remember feeling lost at first. It was at once exciting and daunting to be given the task of organising a workshop on the intellectual property issues surrounding the development of synthetic biology and genomic medicine.

This was a topic that was so outside anything I had studied before. Immediately I was given the task of inviting potential speakers, organising the schedule for the day, and liaising with academics at the Centre for Law, Medicine and Life Sciences at the University of Cambridge. While it was a challenge, seeing my hard work pay off in a successful workshop was deeply satisfying.

Another main (and most exciting) project in which I became involved was CSaP’s 2015 Annual Report. I took on the role of interviewing Policy Fellows about the impact of the two-year Fellowship on their work and the other opportunities the Fellowship provided.

I worked with the CSaP team to devise a list of questions, and joined them on their trips to London to meet Fellows in their various government departments. It was a truly amazing experience; one Fellow showed us around the Cabinet Office, where I was able to glance into Number 10. Eventually, I took on the responsibility of interviewing Fellows on my own, which was incredible, giving me the opportunity to talk to them informally about their careers in government.

After one such meeting, I returned to Cambridge and decided to apply for the Civil Service Fast Stream. I passed the first stages, and was invited to attend the assessment day. Eventually I was offered a position, and after graduating from Cambridge this autumn, I will join the Civil Service.

Without the responsibilities I was given in my time at CSaP, and my exposure to the world of government and policy, I doubt I would have been able to make this life-changing decision as easily. Since my internship, everything else has fallen into place, and I hope given time that I will be able to return to CSaP as a Policy Fellow myself!