As a third year PhD student I decided to undertake a placement to broaden my career prospects and get some professional experience outside of the university environment. An opportunity came up within the Open Innovation Team in the Cabinet Office and I took a break from the lab and started a three-month placement in Westminster. It was a big transition from the academic world to the civil service, but I adapted quickly and within a few weeks I had fully embraced my new role.
The Open Innovation Team was set up to connect government officials with academics to support both policy and research. The team is funded by four universities: Bath, Lancaster, Southampton and Warwick, as well as through sponsorship from Research Councils UK. The team is powered by a group of fantastic civil servants and between 5-10 PhD students on placements.
Numerous different government departments and universities engage with the team on a diverse set of projects. As a team ‘generalist’ I had the opportunity to work on several project areas including environment, mental health and education.
The work was diverse, and no two days were ever the same. As an environmental scientist I was concerned that I would struggle, particularly moving from a research environment to being a member of a vibrant and lively team. However, I quickly settled into the team and managed to apply skills I had developed through my PhD to my new role as a policy adviser. I constantly had papers to read, meetings to attend, presentations to make or reports to write, and the three months flew by in no time.
I thoroughly enjoyed my placement and I gained a greater understanding of the policy-making process and the potential for academics and researchers to collaborate successfully. The team was welcoming, hardworking and simply brilliant. It was a great pleasure to have had the chance to work alongside them. One of the best things about the placement was that it showed me how my skillset can be adapted to a range of different projects and environments. I am looking forward to applying what I have learnt during my placement to finish off my PhD this year.