UK General Election 2024 - Read our five key asks of the next government full report and executive summary

Dr Ben Bleasdale

Senior Policy & Advocacy Advisor at Wellcome Trust

Connection to the Academy: Intern through the Academy’s Internship Scheme (2014), policy team member (2014-17)

The Academy internship completely changed my career.

I joined the Academy for my internship at the very end of my PhD. Coming from the depths of the writing-up phase, it felt like a breath of fresh air. My PhD was on cow herpes - I like to joke that I arrived late and it was the last thing left. I really enjoyed the science, and was fully prepared to stick to it. But I also knew the moment between a PhD and a postdoc is really important for seeing other options. Scientists are very good at advising you to do science as a career, so it’s quite hard to get a realistic view of what else you could do. And because it was a paid internship, spending time at the Academy was a chance to dip my toe in with zero risk.

Tell us about your Academy internship

I dropped in to the Academy and from day one felt like I was needed. I worked on data access and privacy, did events in Parliament, and hosted policy workshops. People were very generous with their time and the Academy does a lot of functions under a small roof, so it was incredibly varied.

I had a fantastic time those three months: it felt both long and short at the same time. It really opened my eyes to what a working environment looked like in science policy, which is hard to know from the outside – it’s quite an unusual career path, and so very different from the lab environment I had been working in. I came away from it with a much better understanding of all a policy role can offer, and the feeling that I’d contributed to something much bigger. It really did feel like a new lease of life for me.

The fact that the Academy’s Fellowship gives it such credibility and closeness to Government means they have a very powerful voice.

How did the Academy internship affect you?

The Academy internship completely changed my career. I was planning on doing a postdoc, but instead got a job at the Medical Research Council in a team I’d shadowed during my internship. Towards the end of that a job came up as a policy officer at the Academy, which I jumped at. I worked for about three years, developing my skills, finding my areas of interest and building up my knowledge of how the rest of the sector slotted together. It was a great place to learn the ropes.

What did you do next?

After that, I moved to the Wellcome Trust, where I am now. The connections back to the Academy are still very strong – we do a lot of joint funding, we work with a lot of the Fellowship, and also we fund policy internships like the one I did. It’s nice being able to see the Academy from the outside.

What do you work on now?

Today, I lead Wellcome’s work campaigning for science funding. It’s actually something I started working on at the Academy, and a topic the whole sector works very closely on. The fact that the Academy’s Fellowship gives it such credibility and closeness to Government means they have a very powerful voice, so we at Wellcome find a great deal of value in collaborating with the Academy.  

The other half of my job at Wellcome is trying to improve workplace culture for scientists. At Wellcome we’ve been looking at how the Academy helped boost the skills of early career researchers in lots of different ways.

The Academy’s been very good at taking a person-centred approach to supporting the scientific community – and not just trying to ignore the fact that running a lab or leading a team is a really hard thing to do. I think that’s something that Wellcome is very much trying to learn from.

What did you learn working at the Academy?

The Academy really opened my eyes to the fact that the policy work was a combination of all I liked the most: that hard-nosed scientific rigour, but then also the challenge of persuading people. There’s such a great desire to use the fact that the UK is a very good place to do science and channel that into better decision-making. Having people who understand both science and policy is key, because you need to be able to translate between the two worlds and understand what the other person is dealing with.

Sometimes in your little bubble you don’t realise how important the decisions being made around you are. Working with the Academy was the first time I really appreciated how science is affected by the world outside. Even if you just want to be a researcher, you are going to be affected by policy issues, so you may as well take an interest. Otherwise you’ll just be taken with the flow.

Working at the Academy was really fun. I’d tell someone thinking of applying that it’s a no-brainer. Whether you want to move into a new career or stay in science, the insight you get is invaluable. And it really does feel like one team, which I don’t think any other organisation I’ve ever worked at has felt like. And you know, that roof terrace…

The Academy is an independent charity with no major endowments or legacy funding. Help us support more people like Ben by visiting our dedicated support us webpage . 

View all people
FB Twitter Instagram Youtube