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Policy placements – Case studies

UCL has sent a number of researchers with varied academic backgrounds on policy placements to UK Government departments and other policy organisations.

Imogen, an expert on the governance of innovation in Russia, learned a lot from her placement at the Department for Business Innovation & Skills (BIS) and was able to compare the UK innovation landscape with that in Russia.
She learned useful information about how the department worked and said, “I discovered that civil servants think and write in very different ways from academics, largely driven by their role to advise Ministers.” She was able to share insights from her PhD research, and the experience also improved the way she worked, particularly her time management.
Vijay is a researcher in UCL Computer Science.
His placement at BIS involved supporting the establishment of a Special Interest Group (SIG) in Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS), to coordinate activity and stimulate growth of a new industrial RAS sector in the UK. Vijay said he would encourage any early stage researcher to consider a policy secondment. “For me, it was an eye opener to the workings of research funding and the strategies used by different stakeholders to secure investment. Also, the array of contacts developed through my secondment will certainly help with my future research career,” he said. An unexpected benefit to UCL came after Vijay’s placement, when the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council launched a call for research infrastructure in three Government priority areas, including Robotics and Autonomous Systems. Thanks to his in-depth appreciation of the drivers and context of the call, as well as his technical expertise, Vijay was able to play a primary role in writing UCL's cross-Faculty response to the call. The grant, for c£2.4m state-of-the art robotics equipment, was awarded to UCL in July 2013.
Lili, a neuroscientist, is among the number of researchers UCL has placed in the Government Office for Science (GO-Science) within the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills.
GO-Science is responsible for getting scientific thinking into the heart of government. While at GO-Science, Lili organised an event on the evidence from neuroscience research and personally briefed both the Government Chief Scientific Advisor, Professor Sir John Beddington, and the Minister of State for Universities & Science, David Willetts. She said her placement had helped to dispel myths she held about Civil Service life and relished the opportunity to experience the inner workings of government firsthand. Lili said, “I have been encouraged by the Government’s growing interest in engaging more closely with scientists and their enthusiasm to use a more evidence-based approach towards policymaking. I would thoroughly recommend this scheme to other scientists who are curious about the inner workings of government and how policies are formed. I am particularly thankful to have seen my own field from a different perspective and how easily it can be mis-perceived.”
UCL sent health researcher Ellen Bloomer on a policy placement to the Cabinet Office, where she wrote a report for Directors and Ministers on delayed transfers of care.
Ellen felt her perspectives as a scientist, such as ensuring a robust evidence base for policies, would be good to bring to a Civil Service role. “I learned a considerable amount about the NHS and how the Civil Service works,” Ellen said. “I also improved my communication and networking skills, particularly because we were hot-desking so I met new people every day.” Ellen is now a Senior Policy Officer at Public Health England and credits her placement at the Cabinet Office with helping to secure this position.