By Katherine Davis, PhD student in the Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology
At the start of 2022, I spent three months as a Fellow in the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology (POST) including writing a briefing on Innovation in Adult Social Care. POST sources reliable and up-to-date research evidence for the UK Parliament and provides a range of fully funded Fellowships for PhD students and post-doctoral researchers. The Fellowships typically involve the production of a research briefing for MPs, Peers, and their staff. In this blog, I will explain how I became a POST Fellow, what I did during my Fellowship and my advice for people considering applying for a POST Fellowship.
Getting a POST Fellowship
Early in my PhD, the student reps in my department organised a breakfast club, with the theme “Making the most of your PhD”. At the breakfast club, PhD students gave five-minute talks on the opportunities they had enjoyed during their studies. One speaker discussed their POST Fellowship and how they had loved getting first-hand experience of policy. I thought the Fellowship sounded like something that I would like to do, so I decided to apply.
My PhD was busy, which meant that it took me a while to get into the habit of looking at the POST website for a Fellowship that would suit me. New opportunities are listed regularly, with different funders and topic areas, so it was important to keep checking back. In late 2021, I spotted a Nuffield Foundation Fellowship that seemed interesting and put together an application.
The first stage of the application process involved writing a two-page mock briefing for parliamentarians and answering three short written questions on topics like teamwork. I chose to focus my mock briefing on Ending HIV Transmissions in the UK because it was relevant to policy, and I already had some knowledge of the topic from my PhD.
After the first stage, I was invited to an interview. I prepared by making sure that I understood a little about how Parliament works and re-reading my briefing. Despite this, I was still very nervous. During the interview, we discussed my work from the first stage, how Parliament works, and how to approach writing a briefing. At the time I felt like I had completely messed up my answers to some of the questions, so I was really surprised and happy to learn that I had been selected as a Fellow!
What a POST Fellowship involves
Following my interview, it was quickly time to start at POST. POST’s work covers four areas: biology and health, energy and environment, physical sciences and computing, and social sciences. I worked in social sciences, but Fellows can work in any of the areas, depending on their background. Across the four areas, most Fellows produce a research briefing, but some are seconded to a select committee or library.
In my case, I produced a briefing on Innovation in Adult Social Care, with my POST advisor, Dr Abbi Hobbs. First, I reviewed relevant literature and interviewed stakeholders. I don’t have a background in adult social care, so there was a lot to learn, and I had a great time talking to stakeholders from academia, industry, and government. After I had completed my initial research, I pulled my findings together into what I hoped was a balanced and informative first draft. My draft was then peer-reviewed by another POST advisor and a group of experts on adult social care. This stage of the process was a lot like getting comments on an academic paper or a thesis chapter; it was initially a bit demoralising, but once I had made the changes the briefing was so much better. Finally, and excitingly, my briefing was signed off by the Head of POST and published!
During my Fellowship, I wasn’t just preparing my briefing. While I was in Westminster, I attended Prime Minister’s Questions to see Boris Johnson quizzed about lockdown parties, met my MP to hear about her work, and attended the State Opening of Parliament. I also visited the offices of my funder, the Nuffield Foundation, to hear more about what they do, and attended POST events, from meetings with scientists like Prof. Robert Winston to crazy golf socials. It was a busy, but fun and memorable time.
Advice for people considering a POST Fellowship
To finish this blog, I would like to outline three pieces of advice for PhD and post-doctoral researchers considering a POST Fellowship:
- Go for it! A POST Fellowship is a great experience, so if you’re sat on the fence about whether to apply, I would really recommend putting an application in.
- If you get a Fellowship, try to make the most of what Parliament has to offer. For example, you can go on tours, try to eat in all the restaurants, and spot famous faces in the crowds around Westminster.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions or tell people if you’re finding it difficult. This is true at every stage from getting adjustments in the application process to telling your advisor that you might struggle to meet the final deadline. The staff at POST are very friendly and keen to help Fellows from a range of backgrounds to do well.