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Science and society

Tom Cohen

Photo of Tom Cohen
Tom Cohen is a PhD student in UCL Civil, Environmental & Geomatic Engineering. His PhD research explores the relationship between citizens and science in the specific area of climate change, including the involvement of citizens in decision-making with reference to greenhouse gas emissions, and deals with themes including the management of uncertainty and of bias, the practical limits of involving citizens in quantitative/numerical exercises and the development of effective means of communicating complex and/or arcane concepts.


Why were you interested in the UCL Public Policy secondment scheme?

I was keen to see how government works from the inside.

Where did you undertake your policy secondment?

I was placed with the Science & Society team at the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS).

What did you learn from your secondment?

That a career in the civil service would not suit me! More positively, I learned a fair bit about the relationship between officials and ministers and the way they work together.

What did you find most valuable?

The work of Science & Society is both close to my heart and relevant to my research so it was very useful to gain an appreciation of their objectives and methods.

What surprised you most?

That it is still possible to buy a cappuccino in London for as little as 92p.

What do you think the benefits were to your host organisation?

I was a fresh pair of eyes and brought my experience from both UCL and time spent in industry with me. And, because I had nothing to lose, I was able to ask difficult questions.

How has the secondment changed the way you work?

My task at BIS was to appraise the evidence base for the work of Science & Society. Since I was willing to throw rocks at their approach to evaluation, I’ve realised that I need to make sure my own approach is robust.

What would you say to other UCL researchers considering a policy secondment?

Make sure you know why you would do it and what you would want to get out of it. If you can find a secondment that would deliver what you are looking for, go for it.


Specific activities that Tom undertook included:

  • carrying out desk research and a literature review
  • writing a report on science and society, including some recommendations
  • giving a presentation on some of his conclusions to the team and selected others from BIS
  • participating in a ministerial briefing and select committee hearing
  • reviewing documents prepared by other colleagues in the team.

Page last modified on 25 oct 12 12:31