Becky Devlin and Ben Bleasedale spent three months at the Academy through our Wellcome Trust and MRC-funded policy internship schemes. Here, they share their tips for getting the most out of an internship.
1. Don't be afraid to ask for help
Remember that everyone was new once too; in fact, half of those who work in science policy seem to have been interns themselves in the past. If you’re confused or lost, don’t hesitate to ask for advice, you’ll find everyone is delighted to help.
2. Seize every opportunity to attend external events
The Academy is part of a huge network of organisations. Getting involved in the many external meetings and events will let you have a taste of what’s out there. Don’t be intimidated - go along and see what you can learn.
3. Policy writing has its own style
Less is more. While you might be used to a very academic style of writing, policy work needs to be accessible and to-the-point. Avoid waffle, and don’t write ten words when you can write three. Make sure that what you write can hold people’s attention. Get a feel for the style using resources like the Academy’s policy archive or the Royal Society of Chemistry’s policy writing guide.
4. Get involved with anything and everything
There is always something going on - whether it’s planning a big networking event, or researching a new policy topic. Make sure you offer to help whenever you can, that way you’ll get a chance to try a whole range of different projects. If you see something that interests you and that you’d like to work on or attend, say so.
5. Be meticulous and keep yourself organised
During your internship you’ll often find yourself working on several projects at once. With so much swimming around in your head, it's vital that you keep track of your thoughts. Take lots of notes during meetings and keep all your files in order - it’ll save you a lot of time and stress in the long run. Keep your calendar up-to-date, it’s not just you who looks at it!
6. Don’t be scared of the acronyms
Almost everything has an acronym and it takes time to learn them. Don’t suffer in silence when you don’t know an acronym that’s mentioned. There’s no point being at the meeting if you have no idea which organisation everyone is talking about.
7. Embrace opportunities to talk to Fellows
Many organisations, like the Academy of Medical Sciences, have Fellows or members. During your internship you should try to interact with them as much as possible - they form the foundation of the organisation and are a fantastic resource for responding to new policy challenges.
8. Go beyond the policy team
Just because you’re doing a policy internship, it doesn’t mean you can’t talk to other teams within the organisation and get involved. You can learn a whole new set of skills, and see how writing policy is really part of a wider process.
9. Your intern experience will be valuable in any career
You’ll learn lots that you can take forward into an academic career as well as in policy. A network of contacts, writing skills, insights into grant funding, and increasingly important for all scientists: how to talk about science and be understood.
10. External placements are a fantastic way to gain even more experience
The internship scheme at the Academy of Medical Sciences gives interns the opportunity to go to another organisation for a few days. Start thinking early about where you want to go and what you want to get out of it. You’ll gain different things from different placements.