PhD student, Centre for Diet and Activity Research, University of Cambridge
ESRC Policy Intern, Centre for Science and Policy (Feb 2015 – May 2015)
"I came to the Centre for Science and Policy assuming that I was broadly familiar with its activities since I had been to a number of CSaP events and even met a few policy fellows. However, once through the door of 10 Trumpington Street and casually asked to articulate the Centre’s purpose and activities, I soon realised that I had only the vaguest notion of what CSaP really is, what it does, and why it exists. This was swiftly cleared up on day one and from then on, when asked by friends what I am doing at the moment, I have been able to describe CSaP’s purpose and proselytise on its behalf with some panache (or so I like to think).
I had an action-packed first week, which involved attending a debate on the implications of neuroplasticity and a ‘First Friday’ lunch at the Government Digital Service. These were an enjoyable introduction to my time at CSaP, allowing me to hear an informed view of two areas about which I had little prior knowledge and forcing me to take in every word because I knew that I had to write up coherent news reports on both events.
The main project on which I worked in my time at CSaP has been arranging a workshop to discuss the evidence concerning the benefits of play in middle childhood. This involved drawing up lists of potential invitees, copy-editing a scoping review, liaising with the workshop venue, and even doctoring a cartoon; all of these activities were a real change of pace and style from being a PhD student, providing an opportunity to learn new skills and ways of working. It was a real pleasure to be able to read the briefing reports and attend the workshop itself - play was a subject about which I previously knew little but I soon realised that it’s an absolutely fascinating one. It was a good experience to have the opportunity to step outside my own field of expertise and peer into someone else’s.
The other project with which I have been involved is the as-yet-unpublished ‘171 Project’, which aims to explore the questions which the top 171 academics who meet with CSaP Policy Fellows have not been asked in their meetings but feel they should have been. I cannot imagine a better way to gain insights into the policy-research interface than exploring the responses to this project. Having the opportunity to read the candid thoughts of researchers engaging with the world of policy has stimulated and provoked my own thinking about the role of evidence and experts in policymaking.
Given that my PhD research was already intrinsically linked to the world of policy, I cannot pretend that my time at CSaP has sparked a new interest in the world of policymaking, but it has given me a far more nuanced understanding of the role of evidence in informing policy decisions. In particular, it has allowed me an opportunity to think about the ‘neutrality’ of expertise and the limitations of approaches that seek to give primacy to evidence in all circumstances. My time at CSaP provided a conducive environment to think about this issue and others that emerge at the convergence of policy and research.
It was, of course, an excellent place to spend three months, staffed with interesting people doing good work, which I think is the perfect recipe for a pleasant environment. Overall, it has been a very good experience and I am definitely glad to have had the chance to spend the past three months at CSaP, which provided a very different experience and set of opportunities to those that usually exist whilst studying for a PhD."
Nick Jones, CSaP Policy Intern (ESRC) 2015