So you want to work in policy?

11 May 2019


Reported by Jamie Ward, NERC-funded Policy Intern (January-April 2019)

Many PhD students and postdocs who have an interest in how their research can inform decisions taken in policy are uncertain about what career path they want to take. Whether to stay in academia, work at the intersection of science and policy, or whether to leave academia altogether and take up a role as a policy professional is often a difficult decision to make.

CSaP's professional development workshops help to clarify the various ways in which researchers can engage with public policy, and the various career options available.

Last month, CSaP delivered a one-day professional development workshop to the NERC-funded Earth System Science DTP and EnvEast DTP. The aim of this workshop was to help researchers gain a better understanding of the world of policy and ways to get involved.

The workshop covered a variety of policy-relevant topics including biodiversity, air pollution, climate change and natural hazards. How we change our environment has an impact on the economy, health, behaviour, agriculture and much more, so it's important that academics are made aware of what the world of policy is really like.

The day opened with a presentation from Julia Knights, who highlighted the difference between working in government and academia and how she often needed to inform scientists of the difference. She emphasised the importance of speaking truth to power where scientists can often be alone in a room with high-profile policy makers and considering other perspectives.

Mike Stock, a Junior Research Fellow in the Department of Earth Sciences at Cambridge, discussed his time working in the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology (POST) and the insights he gained from working in a policy role as an academic. He recommended the natural hazard partnership as a route for NERC students to get involved in a system which typically makes this challenging for academics.

The message of considering the perspectives of your audience was echoed in the presentations of Sarah Moller, Amy Donovan and Emma Woods with each drawing from their own experiences working at the science-policy interface.

Bill Sutherland described his academic journey and his interactions with the world of policy. He recalled how he was once called "politically naive" to which he responded, “it’s my job to be politically naive and find the truth. If the truth is inconvenient, so be it".

Charles Ebikeme described the policy, culture and system differences between nations that need to be considered when communicating science and issues. James Cemmel finished by reiterating how important it was to be proactive in engaging with policy: “you need to speak for yourself, no one is going to speak for you”.

The panel discussion in the afternoon reinforced the message that decisions taken by policy makers are not just based on the scientific evidence - other factors also need to be taken into consideration.

List of speakers:

  • Dr Julia Knights, Deputy Director, Head of Energy and Climate Science at Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS)
  • Dr Michael Stock, Darwin and Galápagos Islands Research Fellow at Christ's College
  • Dr Sarah Moller, Knowledge Exchange and Research Fellow, Department of Chemistry, University of York
  • Dr Amy Donovan, Lecturer in Geography and Environmental Hazards, Department of Geography, University of Cambridge
  • William Sutherland, Miriam Rothschild Professor in Conservation Biology, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge
  • Emma Woods, Head of Policy, Wellbeing, The Royal Society
  • Charles Ebikeme, Science Officer, International Council for Science
  • James Cemmell, Vice President, Government Engagement, Inmarsat