Richard Smith: Case study

PhD Research Student at University of Southampton

NERC-funded Policy Intern (September - December 2016)
PhD Candidate, National Oceanography Centre, University of Southampton

Richard Smith, a PhD student from the University of Southampton was funded through the RCUK scheme to do a 3-month internship at CSaP.

Since his internship, Richard has completed his PhD and has recently been accepted into the Civil Service Fast Stream. This is what he has to say about his internship:

"I feel like the internship at CSaP really helped both in terms of helping me make a decision about the sorts of career I'd like, and also in terms of giving me skills that came in handy during the Fast Stream application process - so thank you!"

How does academic research get incorporated into policymaking? How can both sides communicate with each other more effectively to enhance this process? What is a career in policy making really like? Through my CSaP Policy Internship, I’ve had the privilege to spend three months exploring these questions from a variety of angles.

Week 1: Organise a workshop bringing together academics and policymakers to discuss what different levels of governance can do to implement the Paris climate agreement. Week 2: Find academics whose research could shed light on pressing questions submitted by policymakers. Week 3: Visit the Cabinet Office for a roundtable discussion on the role of digital services in the government. This is just a taste of the different activities I was engaged in while at CSaP! While a PhD involves sustained focus on one area of expertise, my internship at CSaP couldn’t have been more different.

My PhD subject (climate change) has had a lot of political attention in recent years, so I’ve always been interested in how my field, and academia in general, connects with the world of policy. It was with this in mind that I applied to do an internship at CSaP. I also wanted an opportunity to learn more about careers outside academia, and learn more about the sort of work that policy makers do.

A real highlight of my internship was helping to organize a workshop on the Paris climate agreement. This was a great example of how CSaP really does sit right at the intersection of research and policy: attendees included researchers in law, science, politics and beyond, and policy makers from local government (Cambridge City Council) right up to multi-national bodies (the Commonwealth). I can’t say I’d ever seen a group of people spanning such diverse roles come together to focus on one topic. The discussion really provided fresh takes on a much-talked about subject.

During a workshop we held for the Department for Transport, I got to see first-hand and in ‘real-time’ as researchers and policy makers worked together to come up with potential ways to boost cycling in the UK. It was a fascinating chance to explore the different approaches and priorities for researchers and policy makers.

Some of the other most memorable experiences from my time at CSaP were talking with CSaP Policy Fellows. Whether it was during candid conversations at a reception at the Royal Society or interviews for case studies in Whitehall, every civil servant I met gave me an interesting take on the work they do. I’m grateful to CSaP that they gave me so many opportunities to interact with civil servants in a variety of departments.

Now that I’ve finished my internship, what will I take away? For sure, I’ve got a much better idea about the career options available to me outside academia. Whatever I decide to do next, I’ve developed a range of invaluable skills, ranging from writing news stories and reports to organising events to conducting interviews.

Most of all, by having first-hand experience of the challenges and opportunities awaiting policy makers and academics who choose to work together, I’ve become much more aware of the great potential that’s unlocked when the research-policy divide is bridged. I’d recommend this scheme to all PhD students!