PhD students: Our experiences working in the government’s Open Innovation Team

By Tamzin Bond, Department of Chemistry and Amy Wilson, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering 

From January to April 2021 two laboratory-based PhD candidates, Tamzin Bond from the Department of Chemistry and Amy Wilson from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering joined HM Government’s Open Innovation Team (OIT) on placement as policy advisors. OIT is a cross-government unit that works with academics and other experts to help generate analysis and ideas for policymakers.

Over the course of the 3-month placement, the two Imperial PhD candidates worked on a range of policy projects, stakeholder events, and internal team development projects.

Here they both tell us some more about their experiences:

By Tamzin Bond, a PhD candidate from the Department of Chemistry

As a lab-based researcher, stepping into the role of a policy advisor within government was something completely new to me. However, much to my surprise OIT tasked me with real-world, live policy work from the get-go! Throughout my time with OIT I worked on a Deep Dive – an in-depth review of research and international case studies – for a major area of reform that will be delivered to multiple policy teams within a ministerial department. Unfortunately, the work has not been made public yet and so I can’t give any more specific details!

Tazmin Bond, a PhD candiate from the Department of Chemistry
Tazmin Bond, a PhD candidate from the Department of Chemistry

Whilst the topic of the review was something completely different to my research area, I found that working on the project provided me with the very thing I love about research; the chance to deliver meaningful work that will have a real impact on society. Conducting a Deep Dive review meant that I was really able to get to grips with the policy area. It was also interesting to interact with senior academics in a way in which I am not used to. This approach is somewhat unique to OIT. OIT will organise interviews, workshops and roundtables with leading academics and then use this expert insight to inform policy decisions. This isn’t something many policy advisors have the luxury of doing as part of their day-to-day role. For the project I worked on we engaged with over 50 academic experts from across the world. A favourite moment of mine was then relaying this information to the Chief Scientific Advisor for the ministry!

I am hugely grateful to OIT for allowing me this opportunity, and The Forum for all their support to make doing the placement possible. The opportunity to gain first-hand experience in the policy arena has been invaluable and the chance to work with such an innovative team as OIT was even more so. I couldn’t recommend taking up a placement with them more; not only are they highly experienced policy advisors, but they’re also incredible people to work with.

By Amy Wilson, a PhD candidate from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering 

During just three months I was fortunate to be involved in a range of policy projects that developed not only my communication skills, but my ability to produce concise and well-evidenced recommendations to policymakers. Interviewing academics and other experts, consolidating contrasting arguments, and fine-tuning the prominent themes were all part of the ‘delivering policy at pace’ style of OIT work. The evidence I collated and presented was then used by the respective departments, presented to Ministers, and informed the policymaking process.

 

Amy Wilson, PhD candidate at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Taking a short break from my PhD research to join OIT and work on government projects that are at the forefront of the policy agenda has been a highly rewarding experience. I would strongly recommend to anyone thinking about a policy career after their PhD to take a look at the OIT placement scheme. While you don’t usually directly work with Special Advisors or Ministers, you are able to get great exposure to the life of a civil servant and a career in government. Not only because you will very swiftly learn the ropes of a role in government, but because the OIT team is a highly motivated and inclusive team of policy advisors.

 

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