Ryan Hamnett: Case study

PhD Research Student at MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB)

MRC-funded Policy Intern (September - December 2016)
PhD Candidate, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, University of Cambridge

A keen interest of mine has always been the application of science in society, and conveying the importance of research to the public; some of what I have enjoyed the most about my PhD is not just working at the bench, but also explaining my findings in a way that my peers, friends and family can understand. Therefore, when I received an email about the RCUK Policy internship scheme, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to gain some first-hand experience of how research can be applied, and also to dip my toe in the world of policy making as a potential career option.

My lack of any formal policy training may have been a concern for me to begin with but it rapidly became clear that to succeed at CSaP, writing skills, confidence to engage and network with academics and policy makers, and enthusiasm to learn about any policy-related scientific discipline would be far more important. By the end of the first week of my internship, I had already been involved with events relating to fields as diverse as climate change, genomics, housing and energy. This certainly suited me and made for a refreshing change from the narrow scope of a PhD.

Throughout my time at CSaP, I helped organise a series of professional development workshops for the Department for Transport which focused on cycling in the UK, and involved researchers from Cambridge’s Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR).

Not only was this an interesting example of how the researchers and policy makers interact, but it was also exceptionally revealing of the different pressures and expectations that the two groups operated under, highlighting the importance of initiatives like CSaP to foster greater understanding between them.

I was also fortunate enough to witness several one-to-one meetings when I shadowed Leslie Evans (Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government) as part of a Policy Leaders Fellow event. This was a genuine privilege and gave me a real insight into the multitude of issues faced by senior civil servants.

I always felt that my work at CSaP was valued, from my input which helped influence how we ran workshops, to being trusted to conduct interviews with Policy Fellows alongside my fellow intern, Richard Smith (University of Southampton).

My time at CSaP comprised numerous workshops, seminars and discussions, including a number of trips to London to interview Policy Fellows and helping at other events such as 'manning' the CSaP stand at the Royal Society Pairing Scheme launch - an event also attended by Brian Cox!

I have met a huge array of policy professionals, academics and industry professionals in my time here, and hope that I have made some long-lasting connections. My internship has opened my eyes to the breadth of careers available linked to science policy, not just in the civil service but also across industry, think tanks and civil society. While my immediate next steps will involve frantically writing my PhD thesis, it is my intention to search for a career which will allow me to reconcile my love of science with my desire to see it used accurately and effectively; a career I feel much better prepared for as a result of my internship.

I would like to extend my thanks to all of the CSaP team (plus Richard) for making me feel welcome and valued during my internship, and for making it an enjoyable place to work!