I sought out my internship at the Cabinet Office because I’d always been interested in working for the government and I found out about a placement that was specifically designed for current PhD students. I wanted to see what it was like to work for the civil service, especially in such an interesting and unusual political climate. The internship was for a team in the Cabinet Office that matched academics up with policymakers in order to make policy more research-led.
My work was very varied: sometimes I was summarizing research to make it more policy-friendly, sometimes I was pitching our work to other departments in the civil service, sometimes I was visiting universities and helping deliver policy masterclasses to students there. During my time there I had three main projects that I was working on, and a project would generally involve being approached by a particular department with a problem, researching that problem, presenting to the department on how we thought we could help them, and then perhaps organizing a workshop with academics or an expert panel formed of academic experts in the area.
It was our job to find the right academics and to understand the topic enough that we could offer some policy advice and summarize what the experts were advising to the different departments. This made the placement ideal for PhDs, who are used to taking in large volumes of information and breaking it down and simplifying it.
I learnt a lot about the way that policy is formed in government and the various things that compete to influence it (e.g. public opinion, funding changes, political change) and compromise the ideal of “evidence-based policy". In terms of my own professional development, I learnt how to get up to speed on an issue very quickly and ask the right questions in order to solve a problem that was put in front of me. And taking three months away from my PhD was invaluable in terms of being able to return to it with a fresh perspective.
Sometimes when writing a dissertation, it is necessary to take a step back, and in this case I was able to put my dissertation completely to one side and focus on something that although it was on a totally different topic, certainly helped to develop my writing and presentation skills.
I had three great bosses while I was working with the team, one of whom was a designated mentor. She was an excellent mentor. We had weekly meetings to assess how I was doing and what I wanted to get out of the internship, as well as what I wanted to do after I finished my PhD. My mentor encouraged me to set goals that put me out of my comfort zone a bit, which led to my presenting research on a big project to three different government departments.
It was a great experience, and it led to two pieces of further work for our team from one of the departments. I felt supported by all my bosses and they trusted me enough to let me do some quite challenging pieces of work, but I never felt out of my depth.
My internship persuaded me to apply for policy adviser roles in government. I enjoy the culture of the civil service and I find the work rewarding, so I am confident that it will be a good fit. I can’t think of anything that would have made the internship a better experience, other than that the only problem with a 3-month internship is that you leave once you have really got into the swing of things!
Thank you so much and thanks to the Graduate School for giving me this opportunity. It has made me much clearer about my career direction, and I think that internships like this are key for those who want to explore a career outside academia. My department was surprised but delighted to find out that I was going to pursue a career in government, and in his introduction to my FPO the director of graduate studies said I was a good example of the various doors that a PhD opens other than the obvious one into academia.