Sarah Connors: Case study

at Centre for Atmospheric Science, University of Cambridge

NERC-funded Policy Intern (March 2015 – May 2015)
PhD Candidate, Centre for Atmospheric Science, University of Cambridge

The research councils’ internship scheme, which encourages students to learn more about policy, is a rewarding experience which I would thoroughly recommend to eligible PhD candidates. My placement at the Centre for Science and Policy has broadened my knowledge of policy, allowed me to gain new skills, and given me a fresh perspective on my own research.

Interns at CSaP are usually tasked with a single project during their placement, for example organising a workshop. My experience took me down a different path as I was placed working with the Policy Fellowships (PF) Programme. CSaP’s PF Programme provides “opportunities for decision makers from government and industry to forge useful and lasting connections with researchers”.

CSaP has 160 PFs to date from the UK Government, the European Commission, and various NGOs. Each PF partakes in ongoing evaluation throughout their two year fellowship. My role involved the development of this evaluation process where I produced over 70 personalised surveys for individual PFs. In addition, I was able to put my data analysis skills to work by evaluating feedback from previous stages of the policy fellowship. In doing so I learnt more about the structure Whitehall and about how scientific insights can aid policy areas. Through reading the PFs’ responses, this experience enabled me to appreciate how valued this scheme was to them.

I joined CSaP as they were developing a strategic relationship with HM Treasury. One aspect of this relationship was a series of policy seminars involving high-profile academics presenting at the Treasury about scientific research and its relevance in policy development. I liaised with HM Treasury staff to coordinate the logistics of the events.

The seminars I helped to coordinate covered internet security, energy policy, and 3D printing. In addition, I also managed the attendance lists, and evaluated seminar feedback, which I then reported to CSaP and Treasury staff. This experience gave me a real insight into the science and policy interface, and the challenges being faced by both sides.

One particular highlight of my internship was on my first week. A workshop had been organised for approximately 14 PFs to come to Cambridge and discuss the policy issues surround ‘Artificial Intelligence’. These workshops, which start in the afternoon, allow PFs to meet researchers in the morning. before this workshop, I was given the opportunity to shadow Katrina Williams, Director General of the ‘International, Science and Resilience Group’ at the Department of Energy and Climate Change. Being able to witness her discussions between different researchers on current and future policy issues was insightful. I learnt more about the complexity surrounding the policy making process that day than any other day in my internship. Having the opportunity to speak with a senior policy official and ask my own questions about science policy and career pathways was also an extraordinary opportunity.

An internship in CSaP is rewarding for many reasons: not just the increased knowledge about science policy, but also the added benefits of working in a different environment with new people. Sharing my experience with other interns was also great as it provided an increased social aspect to the internship. All these reasons have made my time at CSaP a pleasant and rewarding experience.