EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training
in Sustainable Chemistry

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Placement at the Centre for Science and Policy

October 18, 2017

by Paul Henry, Cohort 1 student 

As a part of  EPSRC CDT in Sustainable Chemistry programme, I completed a three-month placement at the Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP), an organisation dedicated to building links between academia and decision makers in government, based within the University of Cambridge. The placement was organised through the Research Councils UK Policy Internship scheme.

Studying sustainability as a part of my PHD has helped develop my interest in how decisions on the development of sustainable technologies and public behaviour change are evidenced and made. This interest in policy led me to apply for this scheme, as I wanted to better understand the transition between research and policy.

Much of the work I completed for CSaP involved organising and attending policy workshops. These events allowed researchers and policy makers to discuss how cutting edge science could impact government policy in the future. Attending these meetings was fascinating, as they were all on topics which I was not familiar with from my own studies.

A policy workshop which I took the lead on organising and particularly enjoyed was on the topic of innovative climate risk assessments. I found this topic incredibly interesting as civil servants, lawyers and senior financiers amongst others were present to speak to researchers about how a greater ability to predict the impacts of climate change could impact society and the economy. Attending and participating in a discussion which moved quickly between technical detail and larger, more philosophical arguments was a unique experience.

Aside from the policy workshops I also worked with the policy fellowships team. This programme allows policy makers in the civil service to have many meetings with academics from across a wide range of disciplines to talk about selected policy areas. The aim of this work is to strengthen connections between policy making and researchers.

Working on the policy fellowships programme involved researching the questions raised by prospective fellows and helping develop a schedule of meetings with relevant academics. This allowed me to understand policy issues from a wide range of academic viewpoints.

As part of my work with the policy fellowship programme I attended the Policy Leaders event at Trinity College. This brought together some of the most senior policy makers in the civil service to discuss how advances in genetic technologies could disrupt our society and how the public perceive controversial research.

I also had the opportunity to work on a collaborative research project between CSaP and the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication. I reviewed how evidence was collected and presented for the purpose of taking policy decisions. The purpose of the project was to help develop better tools for quantifying evidence which can have wide ranging impacts.

At the very end of my placement the CSaP annual conference was held at the Royal Society in London. In the weeks leading up to this event I had a role in helping organise conference calls between the speakers at each session in order to ensure discussion was as informative as possible. During the conference I attended sessions about devolution of power, social cohesion and industrial strategy, as well as observing an interview for the American Public Broadcasting Service about the British exit from the EU.

I also wrote an article for each CSaP event, which I attended. Completing concise reports and articles to a tight deadline was initially a steep learning curve, but it has developed my writing and time management skills. Writing up events into articles published on the CSaP website also provided to be shared on social media.

Whilst many of the activities and discussions I took part in during my time at CSaP were very new to me, I felt that there were many valuable things that I have learned throughout the course of my PhD with the CDT, which  I could put into practice to make a positive contribution. Responsible research and innovation was a recurring theme across my time in Cambridge, my knowledge of the EPSRC AREA framework that I learned in my first year was very useful to both me and my colleagues.

The diversity of activities and programmes, which I worked on throughout my placement have developed my communication and networking skills. I feel that the focus on concise and informative writing will benefit me in the final year of my PhD as I complete my thesis. Organising events on behalf of the Centre has also improved my own personal timekeeping and communication skills, as I had to remain in regular contact with many people in order to coordinate everything from the food to what the speakers would talk about.

I think that my time at CSaP has developed a wide range of my professional skills. Aside from writing, time spent at events and meetings has improved my confidence to speak to people about policy topics and ask informed questions. At each event I was given the opportunity to network and had many recommendations of institutions to apply for following the completion of my studies.

Following my placement, I feel more inspired to enter the world of scientific and sustainable policy. I now have a much larger network of contacts and a greater idea of the kind of candidate which is sought in this field. I think that working with CSaP has definitely improved my prospects of getting a job, not just because of their excellent reputation, but because they trusted me to work independently and develop the skills required to work in policy. I really enjoyed my time in Cambridge, and I would recommend that anyone interested in developing their understanding of how research can impact the wider world should apply.