Author: James Rae

Bridging the gap between research and policy: a Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology (POST) Fellowship

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.

Katherine Davis, PhD student in the Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology

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!

The Innovation in adult social care POSTnote was published in May 2022.


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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Engaging with Parliamentarians during Evidence Week

Dr Gbemi Oluleye, is a Lecturer in Energy and Environmental Technology and Policy, within the Centre for Environmental Policy, Faculty of Natural Sciences.

Dr Gbemi has worked as the lead researcher in a range of projects in both academic and industry, covering emerging strategies for decarbonising energy intensive industries, including serving as a member of the BEIS strategy board for the Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy. In this blog post, Dr Gbemi writes about her experiences taking part in Evidence Week in Parliament earlier this year.

Evidence Week is an annual event held in the UK Parliament and organised by the charity Sense About Science. Evidence Week brings together academics and parliamentarians to share ideas about research and policy, promote scientific understanding and increase the visibility of researchers.

I was excited about the opportunity to present my research on achieving cost-effective industrial decarbonisation during Evidence Week 2021. I had previously attended training by the Forum such as a policy engagement seminar in 2019 and a policy engagement development opportunity with Institute for Government in 2020. Both these pieces of training played key roles in preparing me for the event especially in communicating complex science and engaging with policymakers.

Preparing for Evidence Week also involved recording a three-minute video where I introduced myself, my research, the need for industrial decarbonisation, and the key findings of my research with tangible examples and discussed how to monitor progress in decarbonising industry.

Emissions from industry currently contribute 40% of global CO2 emissions and 16% of UK CO2 emissions. These figures underlined for my audience the importance of the work my research group is engaged in, synthesising cost-effective ways to accelerate the adoption of new ideas for industrial decarbonisation. We need to make the UK’s transition to net zero cost-effective for society, government, and industry.

The industrial sector is not only a big emitter but plays a crucial role in developing low carbon solutions for other sectors of the economy like transport, electricity and agriculture, therefore achieving net-zero in industry is key to achieving net-zero for the UK economy.

Dr Gbemi speaking with Tobias Ellwood, Chair of the Defence Select Committee
Dr Gbemi speaking with Tobias Ellwood MP, Chair of the Defence Select Committee at her Evidence Week stall.

One critical finding of my research is that no single technological solution can decarbonise industry. A distinctive and complex combination of several technological solutions will be required for every particular industrial plant, site, or cluster. There are no ‘one size fits all’ solutions to the challenge of decarbonisation.

Another finding is creating or adapting existing policies to allow new industrial business models to be trialled can accelerate the transition faster and more cost-effectively than creating policy interventions to directly increase the uptake of technological solutions.

Dr Gbemi, speaking with another parliamentarian.
Dr Gbemi, speaking with another Parliamentarian.

Progress in getting the UK’s industrial sector to net zero can be monitored by periodic reports on emissions and fuel use in this sector which can be tabled and reviewed in parliament.Parliament could then evaluate what is the necessary budget to be spent on interventions for this sector alongside the emissions reduction/ uptake of alternative solutions and the creation of clean industrial products.

On the day in parliament, I hosted an exhibition ‘pod’ to share insights and resources with MPs and peers and answered questions. I had on average three minutes to share research findings with each visitor to my pod. MPs, peers, and their staff were very receptive to my research findings, and some of them booked a one-to-one to discuss further. It was a good experience for me, and the interactions were greatly appreciated by both sides. MPs, peers and their staff had a positive attitude towards input from scientists, which I found really encouraging.

An excellent opportunity like Evidence Week provides a platform for researchers to inform and shape policy with scientific evidence, and I encourage academics and researchers to attend.

Recent engagement with policymakers


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.