Charlotte Ashley-Roberts on the appliance of science to the development of public policy

Charlotte Ashley-Roberts on the appliance of science to the development of public policy


Charlotte Ashley-Roberts is the RSC’s careers adviser

Q I am just finishing my PhD and looking for work outside of the lab. I was recently at a presentation on career options you gave at my university. You talked a little bit about policy work at the RSC and I was wondering if you could give me a bit more information and some tips on how I could get involved in a policy career? 

A Firstly, it’s great that you are thinking about your options now, in preparation for when you have finished your PhD. This is a really important step, especially if you are considering a career change into this type of work. Secondly, you are absolutely right; I did mention that the RSC works on policy. We work across a variety of areas from energy to health and safety to diversity.

To give you an overview: science policy is a broad area, which concentrates on policies that affect the conduct of science and research, including the funding of science. This is often done in accordance with other national policy goals, such as weapons development, healthcare and environmental monitoring. Science policy also involves applying scientific knowledge to the development of public policies.  

In general terms, policy officers help to develop and implement strategies, objectives, and policies and procedures. They also review and monitor existing strategies and procedures to ensure consistency across local councils. They usually work closely with people at all levels including the chief executive, senior officers and elected council members on specific projects.  

You will have gained many transferable skills throughout your time in academia which you should aim to sell to the employer. Some of these include researching, investigating, recommending solutions or changes, ensuring that you are up-to-date with legislation, developing and maintaining effective working relationships, project management, organisation and analytical skills 

As well as highlighting these skills to an employer, you might also want to consider work experience. You can do this through work shadowing, internships, summer placements or even just talking to someone who does the job already. One option is the series of fellowships offered by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST). These are funded by a variety of different bodies, including the RSC, and applications for the 2011 RSC POST fellowship are now open.  

This kind of research is invaluable if you are looking to make a career change. It also allows you to see if this is the kind of work you would like to do and, if it is, it demonstrates to an employer that you have researched this thoroughly and are committed to making the change.  

There are many institutions and organisations who deal with science policy; you could try and scope them out and find out more about them to see if they are involved in the types of projects you would be interested in. It is also worth checking to see where they are based in terms of location. If they are suitable, bookmark their vacancies page and check them regularly to see if anything arises.  

Many of these organisations have internships and summer placements available, some of which are even paid. You can also find jobs from local council websites, local newspapers and national newspapers such as The Guardian.  

As I am sure you will remember from previous articles and blogs I have written on the subject, networking is also important. With 80 per cent of job vacancies being ’hidden’ and the competition for posts in this area attracting a lot of applications, making contacts and building up your knowledge of what is happing in the sector is important. As well as networking in person, you can network in a wider community through virtual means through MyRSC, Facebook and LinkedIn.  

You might also want to think about related careers such as those in science outreach and science communication.  

Further Reading

Royal Society of Chemistry
Internship roles at the Royal Society
Working for POST RSC POST fellowship
European Science Foundation 
World Health Organisation 
European Parliament