Victoria Honour, Doctoral Researcher in Earth Sciences at the University of Cambridge, writes about her three month postgraduate internship with the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.
"During my first year of PhD I became interested in the relationship between policy makers and scientists. I applied for a POST fellowship as it sounded like a fantastic opportunity to gain experience in science policy and a better understanding of Parliament. My POST fellowship was supported by NERC and I was placed with the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Select Committee.
My role within the Select Committee was as an assistant specialist, running the EFRA Select Committee’s inquiry into ‘Brexit: Trade in Food’. The inquiry was fascinating, it explored the opportunities and challenges that producers, processors and consumers will face after Brexit in different agricultural sectors e.g. lamb, poultry, dairy, cereals etc. Day to day this involved talking to policy experts and academics, going to conferences, reading the written evidence submitted to the inquiry, having meetings with the chair of the committee and staying up-to-date on the latest Defra position on a variety of matters. I found producing the background reports similar to producing an academic literature review, just with a greater variety of sources, including NGOs, industry, Ministers and think tanks. The inquiry I worked on was fast-paced and exciting; the MPs on the Committee were taking oral evidence for the inquiry every fortnight, giving me very short turnaround times. For each oral evidence session I arranged a panel of witnesses spanning the key topics and wrote an internal brief for the MPs, highlighting the major discussion points for each agricultural sector. My days were never the same and though everyone was responsible for a different inquiry, we would all help with different projects, especially for something like a visit from the US Secretary of Agriculture.
I was well-supported through my fellowship, reporting to the senior specialist and clerk of the committee. Being part of a small team, with a manager, was a valuable experience and one I found very different to my PhD. The biggest challenge for me was developing my writing style for select committee work, especially coming from a science background where we focus in on one area in great detail. I learnt how to stand-back and pull out the overview picture.
During my fellowship I started blogging about my experience and have since given talks to academics about the impact their research can have in Parliament. Overall my time with the select committee has taught me so much, I loved the societal relevance, short deadlines and buzz of Parliament. This has inspired me to pursue a career translating research to enable societal impact."