Spotlight Series: Careers in Policy – notes from the discussion on 26th October 2016

city-hall-719963_640Our speakers were:

Lila Caballero-Sosa

Title:      Policy Adviser at ActionAid

PhD:      Government; focusing on the Mexican Chamber of Deputies, at LSE

Lila has extensive experience in policy research, advice and management. As part of the policy team at ActionAid UK, she carries out research and develop policy analysis and strategies on aid and development finance. Although she has never formally studied at King’s, Lila has strong affiliations with the college and is currently carrying out a collaborative research project with the King’s International Development Institute.

George Windsor

Title:      Senior Policy Researcher at Nesta

PhD:      Political Science and Government; Highly skilled migration and the promotion of entrepreneurship in the UK at Loughborough University

At Nesta, George focuses upon carrying out research relating to the creative and digital economies here in the UK. This includes analysis of policy documentation such as the revised ‘Creative Industries Council’ strategy, as well as exploring concepts such as ‘The Fusion Effect’ which explores the utility of businesses combining knowledge from both the arts and sciences.

Ben Whitham

 Title:      Policy Research at Citizens Advice

PhD:      International Politics – University of Reading

Recently a Policy Researcher at Citizens Advice, a part-time Lecturer in International Politics at the University of East London, and a (voluntary) member of the Board of Directors at the Nuclear Information Service, Ben has many years’ experience of professional research and teaching in both Higher Education and policy roles. Ben is now a lecturer at Loughborough University. At present his work focuses upon the public services complaint landscape and he is utilising innovative social media research and big data analysis.

 Here are some of the questions and tips provided by our speakers:

Some common features of policy work:

  • Organisations are often small and run on tight budgets – multitasking and flexibility is needed
  • Work is often politically sensitive and discretion is frequently needed
  • Small organisations often mean opportunities to try new areas of work and take responsibility quickly
  • There are often benefits such as international travel or the chance to work with government departments and ministers and have impact nationally

Does your PhD have to be relevant to policy work?

All three panellists agreed that this was not necessary and that transferable skills from your PHD were more important.

How can you become more employable in policy?

Take internships if you can but also take less formal approaches, be willing to collaborate on writing blogs, approach someone who is already working in the field and suggest working together. Be imaginative it’s often easier than you think to approach and work with someone.

You can try getting an administrative role in an organisation you want to work for and wait for a good opportunity to come up. It’s usually easier to move within and organisation than it is to enter from the outside.

How can you prepare for this type of work?

Learn (or re-learn) to write specifically for a non-academic audience. This may be harder than you realised. Your new employers, however, will probably appreciate your academic skills and draw on them for example in gathering and analysing data.

Policy work is often quite different to academia – results are required more quickly and the methods used to research are often different to the ones you’ve used up to now. It’s a good idea to get familiar with quantative methods and software like SPSS, if you aren’t already.

Can you re-enter academia after a period working in a non-academic role?

Yes, and this can be a strength, bringing skills and experience that you might not have otherwise. You can also mix further study or academic work with a policy role. Two of our speakers had direct experience of this. Your connection with and understanding of academia can also be very useful.

Top tip for policy job application:

Read job description carefully, show you have the essentials, trust yourself – have confidence in yourself! You’ve done and achieved a lot. Be succinct and plain in your answers to questions. Use evidence and tangible examples.

Many thanks to our speakers who gave up their time so generously and our audience for their excellent questions.