GO-Science Policy Internship: Catherine Leech

The WISE CDT had two successful applications to UKRI‘s Policy Internships Scheme. Catherine Leech (Cohort 4, Cardiff) has been hosted by GO-Science (The Government Office for Science) and writes about her experience here. The Policy Internships Scheme offers the chance for doctoral students funded by UKRI funding councils to work for three months in a highly influential policy organisation. Successful applicants work at the host organisation on policy topic(s) relevant to them both. Internships are designed to improve students’ transferable skills in project leadership, systematic review methods, communicating complex information to non-experts, writing for a policy audience, working at pace, and balancing needs of policy and evidence.

Catherine reports:

“In my 3-month policy internship I worked with the Science Network and Chief Scientific Advisers Capability Team (Team SNaCC!) at the Government Office for Science (GO-Science). Having heard about the exciting opportunity to complete a policy internship I applied for a placement at GO-Science as I wanted to learn about how science informs policy at the heart of government.

Go-Science supports the Government Chief Scientific Adviser (GCSA) in ensuring that the government has access to the best scientific evidence to inform policy and long-term decision making. This includes making sure that all departments have access to the right people, resources and scientific infrastructure for managing and using science to support their work. One way in which GO-Science achieves this is in facilitating weekly meetings with the network of departmental Chief Scientific Advisers (CSAs) to facilitate collaboration, address cross-governmental issues and share best practice. During my internship, I worked closely with the CSA network, helping to provide a secretariat function for meetings as well as working on my primary task: developing a coherent induction process for incoming CSAs.

The role of a CSA is a unique one and candidates often come from diverse backgrounds before taking up the post. It was therefore really important to create an induction programme that could be used consistently across all departments so that all CSAs start from the same position even if their specific work varies between departments. Over the course of my internship I consulted with CSAs, their officials and deputies, to assess the requirements of such a programme and brought together a package of support documents, training and guidance that I was then able to present to the incoming CSA at BEIS (the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy). I feel really proud of the work I produced and am pleased that the output has been deemed valuable enough to be developed further to strengthen the network and I will be continuing this work part time in the coming months.

As well as working with the CSA Network, during my internship I also supported the team in their activities with working groups looking at Areas of Research Interest (ARIs), drawing together evidence provided by the groups to answer questions on Building a Resilient Britain post-Covid. It was an exciting time to be working at GO-Science with my time their coinciding with the conclusion of the ARI working groups, submission and evaluation of departmental bids for the Government’s Spending Review, as well as the ongoing work of SAGE providing evidence and advice in the face of the Coronavirus. I was able to engage in really diverse tasks at a very fast pace and know that my confidence has grown through this work as well as my problem-solving skills and ability to distil key information under tight deadlines.

Although the pandemic meant that I had to work from home for the duration of my placement instead of in Central London, technology meant that I was able to engage effectively with the SNaCC team on a daily basis and I really enjoyed being part of such a dynamic and motivated team.

One of the most important skills that I learnt from my time on placement at GO-Science was to reach out to others to achieve tasks where I previously wouldn’t have had the confidence to, preferring to work alone than approach strangers. Working in such an encouraging environment has definitely grown my confidence, honed my communication skills and improved my personal impact. I would highly recommend a policy internship to anyone who is wanting to add an extra string to their bow and learn about science in government, offering a different perspective to our work in academia and applying research in a different way.”

Catherine Leech, 10 November 2020