Zoe spent three months with the Academy during January to March 2017, and has provided her views on 'why a science policy internship makes you a better academic' below.
PhD students considering a career outside of academia would most definitely benefit from an internship at the Academy - but why should aspiring academics also seize this fantastic opportunity?
The Academy has over 1200 fellows who represent the absolute best of the UK biomedical research community. During time as an Academy intern, it is inevitable that you will bump into some of them. One of my projects was to write the Academy’s response to the Government’s investigation into the problem of research integrity in scientific research, and as part of it I sought the opinion of some of the Academy’s fellows – their wealth of experience and expert insight is inspiring. I also helped out with the yearly Spring Meeting where I mingled with researchers from many different fields of clinical research. However all the events and simple lunches with staff at the Academy mean every day is a networking opportunity.
- Grant writing and process
As an intern, you can get involved with some of the Academy’s work outside of policy. In helping out the grants team, I gained a fantastic insight into the grant awards process and what grant review panels look out for. I also spent a day at the MRC head office where I was able to observe the MRC Neurosciences & Mental Health Board Meeting, the final step in deciding which excellent research projects will be funded.
- Understanding links between academia, industry and the Government.
The bottom line is that government decisions affect the research landscape. Therefore researchers with a good understanding of science policy can better position their science to increase their funding and benefit society. I have realised how important it is for academics to engage in policy – their input does make a difference and their expertise is vital. A big highlight for me was also the short-term placement I undertook at Innovate UK. Innovate UK are the UK Government innovation agency which aims to drive science and technology innovation which benefits the UK economy. Turning research ideas into societal benefit through transfer of technology is increasingly valued and talking to people working in healthcare innovation and agriculture innovation at the agency allowed me a huge insight into how this is done. In a sense, I have seen the policy process from conception of new policies to their implementation and academics are central every step of the way!
Whilst science policy writing is different in style to academic writing, what you learn about the writing process and communicating ideas succinctly and clearly would serve any PhD student who is on the verge of beginning thesis writing. My time at the Academy has meant the thought of sitting down to write my thesis is now far less daunting.
- The other little opportunities
The Careers team put on workshops for some of the researchers they fund such as presentation skills and networking skills which I was lucky enough to be able to attend and learn from. I also helped out with setting up of events, seeing how a conference runs behind the scenes for example.
- Taking 3 months out of lab work
The thought of three months away from the lab can make some people feel anxious, but there is no reason to fear because those three months give you the opportunity to take a step away from your PhD and gain clarity. I can now return to the lab focussed with a clear idea of what I need to do next in preparation for my thesis.
In conclusion, an internship at the Academy will help you in your PhD and beyond whether you wish to work in the field or to continue pursuing an academic career. The value of understanding Science policy and strategy for researchers is underestimated - any PhD student should seize this opportunity to get out of the lab and develop that bigger picture view!