Name: Dr Ben Bleasdale
Institution: Academy of Medical Sciences
Connection to the Academy: Previously an Academy intern through the MRC scheme
When were you an intern?
My internship lasted from January through March of 2014. I had just finished the lab-phase of my PhD and finally convinced my supervisor that I really couldn’t do ‘one more little experiment’. It was great timing, and gave me a chance to let my mind focus on something new after a hectic few months wrapping things up in the lab.
What are you doing now – what has happened for you since you left?
Although I’d finished in the lab, I still had writing-up funding so after my placement drew to a close I headed back to the University library and carried on with thesis writing. The end of my PhD wasn’t far off, so I was keeping an eye on career opportunities – the internship had totally convinced me that life outside academia was a good choice for me, and I was lucky to get a position working within the team at the Medical Research Council that had hosted me for a week during my internship. Later in 2014, I was offered a position as a Policy Officer at the Academy and found myself heading back to where it had all started.
What made you apply to the scheme, originally? How was the application process?
I saw the internship advertised through a student mail list sent round MRC students at Imperial. I’d already been exploring potential career options, though without much understanding of the reality of such jobs I felt that a traditional route through academia might be better for me. The placement offered the perfect opportunity to ‘try before you buy’, and I jumped at the chance to apply. The application process was actually rather enjoyable, it had been a long time since I’d been asked to write anything other than academic journal-style pieces, and I really got stuck into researching and writing the policy essay.
What did you work on during your internship?
I worked on a lot of different projects during the internship, and I remember being shocked by the level of engagement I had – it was a long way from making tea and photocopying. Instead I was working to deadlines, contributing towards projects and I felt genuinely like I was contributing. I remember working on the Academy’s response to the NHS 5 year R&D strategy, and helping with a project focussing on health data. The team was great at getting me involved in a huge variety of projects, so I got a chance to experience many of the types of activities undertaken by the Academy. I also had two great external placements, firstly with the MRC and then with the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, which gave me a fantastic chance to see the types of policy roles that exist across the sector.
How did you find the experience?
I had a fantastic time, and was delighted to be able to secure a full-time job at the Academy. The internship gave me a far better understanding of what a career in science policy meant, and a chance to experience the types of organisations where I might work. The sense of teamwork, the diversity of activities, and the continued link to academia meant that I was convinced that science policy was the right career choice for me. Without the internship, that career stage would have been much harder.
Did the internship give you any skills or knowledge that you used after you’d left?
It certainly gave me a head start when I returned to the policy team – although I was new, I already had three months experience under my belt and a good knowledge of how the job operated. Also, working closely with Fellows means that I can very much see the value of an understanding of policy, even for career academics. More and more, academics are expected to engage with the political system that supports research, and time spent at the Academy would be valuable experience for anyone staying in science.
Do you have any advice for someone who’s thinking of applying/doing the internship, or something similar?
My advice is fairly simple – give it a go. The number of opportunities to try things out rapidly shrinks after you finish a PhD, so if something comes up that you think sounds interesting, you should go for it. Even the process of applying itself can help you learn more about a career path, so you’ll gain something useful regardless of the outcome.