Isabel Stockton, Doctoral Researcher in Economics at the University of Bristol, writes about her three month postgraduate internship with the Scrutiny Unit.
“I am a PhD student in Economics at the University of Bristol and currently spending three months at the Scrutiny Unit as part of the Research Councils’ (RCUK) policy internship programme. This is part of a structured collaboration between the Research Councils and a number of policy organisations, including several parliamentary hosts in London and the devolved administrations.
The application process kicks off each summer for placements in the following academic year. I completed an application discussing my academic background, skills and motivation, and wrote a mock POSTnote on a topic unrelated to my PhD research. I was then called to interview. Staff at my Doctoral Training Centre were very supportive of my application. I was also given an extension to my PhD funding and submission deadline corresponding to the duration of the placement and have access to additional financial support with accommodation and travel costs during the internship.
My placement has enabled me to participate in the breadth of the Scrutiny Unit’s work: analysing written evidence, attending oral evidence sessions, contributing to committee briefings and reports, examining how departments report their spending and raising awareness of the parliamentary financial cycle. This work has improved my skills and confidence in writing for different audiences and quickly switching between a wide variety of topics. It has also given me a much clearer understanding of how different types of evidence feed into policymaking. Having taken a step back from my research, I will also return to it with fresh eyes and renewed enthusiasm.
Talk of policy impact and engagement is everywhere in academia, but a cultural divide remains between academic research and dedicated policy advice, with different rules, values and working practices. As a German living in the UK, navigating such a divide is not a new task for me and it won’t be for many PhD students, whose research and personal lives straddle multiple cultures more often than not. Collaboration between academics and policymakers is not unlike other types of cross-cultural exchange: it requires us as researchers to understand policymakers’ perspectives and needs and, if successful, it can make us more effective in our work, more adaptable and more aware of our impact on the world around us.
I would encourage fellow PhD students to consider a policy placement as part of their professional development and to be open to applying their knowledge and skills to a range of topics, even if their research does not directly recommend or evaluate policy."