Reflections on a NERC Policy Internship in the Research Service

Published 16/01/2017   |   Last Updated 27/05/2021   |   Reading Time minutes

Policy internships for PhD students

The Research Council Policy Internships Scheme provides an opportunity for NERC-funded PhD students to work in highly influential policy organisations for three months. As a researcher with a strong interest in applied and policy relevant research, I decided to apply, and opted for a parliamentary placement, although non-parliamentary organisations also take part in the scheme. After preparing my application, example work, and attending an interview in London, I was offered a placement with the Environment and Transport Team in the Research Service of the National Assembly for Wales. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the internship, although I had spoken to students had already completed one, and knew from my interview that I’d be involved in all aspects of the research team’s work.

Part of the team

My first week was filled with a busy induction schedule, providing a thorough introduction to the workings of the Assembly and the Research Service. Having never worked in a parliamentary setting before, this was hugely valuable, as I learned about the history of devolution in Wales, the structure of the Assembly, and the role of Committees in scrutinising Welsh Government. I also discovered the pivotal role that the Research Service plays in providing high quality on-demand and proactive research outputs for Assembly Members, that are used at all levels of their work. Everyone in the Research Service and other departments was very welcoming, and the Environment and Transport Research Team made great efforts to ensure I quickly became an integrated part of the team.

Diverse types of work

The work of the Environment and Transport Research Team broadly includes: responding to enquiries from Assembly Members; supporting the work of Committees (Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs in my case); and the production of proactive briefings, Act and Bill summary papers, and blogs. I was able to contribute to all types of work during my three months with the service. I also attended a range of events, including the EC-UK Forum and NGO receptions.

Enquiries can arise from constituent questions to Assembly Members, as part of the scrutiny process of Welsh Government, or as general areas of research for Assembly Members. I responded to a diverse range of enquiries, from several thousand word briefings on climate change activities in developing nations and regional transport planning, through to shorter summaries of relevant legislation on rights of way or tree management.

I attended a number of sessions of the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs committee, gaining a first-hand insight into the functioning of committee work. I also contributed research that supported inquiries into the future of agricultural and rural development policies in Wales, and the approach to eradicating bovine tuberculosis in Wales.

The Research Service blog “In Brief” publishes posts directly related to the business of the Assembly, such as in advance of ministerial statements, or on topics of wider interest to the Assembly, and are a key output of the Research Service. I produced two blog posts during my internship, on the future of bus services and the food and drink industry. I was also able to author four proactive publications in collaboration with a permanent member of the research team. One of these, a briefing about a new type of planning application process, is already available online and is being used by stakeholders. Three more briefings will be published after my internship has finished, which are about the food and drink industry, and woodlands and forestry in Wales. Producing these outputs required new ways of working compared to my PhD research. Impartiality, alongside accuracy and rigour, was essential for all outputs, and I developed my writing style with editorial input from my colleagues. I liaised with Assembly Member support staff and the legal department; searched and analysed Welsh Government policy documents, ministerial statements and committee work; requested and collated information from relevant stakeholders; and requested information from Welsh Government.

Exceeding expectations

Reflecting on my experience working for the Research Service, I have learnt a great deal about the use of evidence in parliamentary processes and policy making, and about working in a public sector environment. I feel much better equipped to understand the world of policy making, which will be invaluable for my future career. Working within a closely integrated team to conduct research was also a new experience for me, and I became involved in a much wider range of work than I had imagined. In addition to all this, I fully explored the benefits of living in south Wales and the vibrant city of Cardiff! I have found the experience wholly positive, and would encourage any PhD student interested in a Policy Internship to consider the Research Service of the National Assembly for Wales as a host organisation.

Article by Eleanor Warren-Thomas, National Assembly for Wales Research Service