January 22, 2020, by Postgraduate Placements Nottingham
An insight into life as a civil servant (on an UKRI Policy Internship)
This week we hear from Cerys Gibson, a researcher in the Graduate School managed ESRC Doctoral Training Centre, about her experience of doing an UKRI Policy Internship.
I recently completed a UKRI Policy Internship at the HMICFRS, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate for the Fire and Rescue Services, and thought it would be useful for other PhD students, as well as internship providers, to write a blog entry about my experiences. I found the experience a positive one and am shamelessly using this blog entry to encourage others to apply!
I first saw that the Graduate School was promoting the UKRI internships last summer, but originally felt that three months away from my PhD would be too long, and that I would struggle to get back into it! However, the idea of doing a policy-based internship appeared more and more important as I grappled with how to make an impact with my research as workshops and reading reminded me of the importance of communicating research, rather just conducting it. I also felt that, with a narrow PhD topic, I was losing a broader perspective of my field of research in policing. I therefore decided to apply and was glad to be accepted for a three-month internship at Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of the Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS). I was also accepted for an internship at the Home Office, which meant I was able to arrange shadowing between myself and the intern there, so that we both doubled our internship experience.
While at the HMICFRS (always such a mouthful to say!), I was placed in the Better Inspections Portfolio, carrying out research into how the HMICFRS could improve their inspection activities. This was a period of change as the organisation was creating a new inspection programme to launch in 2020, with a number of workstreams working in parallel to form a comprehensive, dynamic approach to inspections. This was a great opportunity to improve my social research skills as I conducted a literature review to guide our inspection teams, created surveys on the perceived success of the Integrated Peel Assessments conducted that year, lead two focus groups with inspection teams on their use of case file analysis and supported the team in analysing these results. I also reviewed all the 43 Force Management Statements on the area of police wellbeing, creating a template for how this could be done in the future. The internship therefore helped improve my research skills for future research projects, wherever this may be!
But the internship went far beyond helping me complete my PhD, instead giving me valuable experience and insight for the future. I looked up from my research on out-of-court disposals and placed this within the wider policing context of police culture, training and problem-solving approaches. As a custody visitor, I was also able to observe a custody inspection by HMICFRS and feed suggestions for improving our own scheme to my manager. I met with civil servants in the Home Office and learned about their work on stop and search and the increase of 20,000 officers.
The internship also showed me what life was like as a civil servant, the variability of research topics and methods, the support by welcoming, friendly colleagues, and the need to be flexible and adaptive to change. It helped me see alternative career pathways and speak to those already further along who were only too happy to offer advice where needed. It was difficult to leave my PhD for three months, and all my promises to myself to keep writing while away unfortunately did not manifest! However, it left me energised to get back into my PhD, remembering the wider context in which it sat, and the value that academics have for policy decision-makers, who can be too time-strapped to conduct the research they would like.
So, if you can afford the three months out (and do consider the consequences this will have on your accommodation) I would certainly recommend the experience. In my team, I was made to feel straight at home with a Civil Servants sports’ day (we won the quiz!) and bowling nights. The connections I made will continue well into the future. They’ve already offered support for applying for future civil servants’ jobs and provided feedback on my policy internship application and interview to further hone my skills. I felt that the internship was a valuable experience for life after the PhD and is worth taking a three-month break from the process. I was lucky in that I had finished my field work by this point and so it was a useful point to take a step back, but do think about when the internship opportunity can be used to your advantage over the PhD process and speak to the organisation to see if this can be facilitated.