A PhD student’s reflections on making the most a policy secondment

Harriet Dudley, a third year PhD researcher at the University of East Anglia reflects on her recent secondment with the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology:

“I study the conditions under which policymakers will (not) use expert climate policy advice to shape policy. I recently returned from a Research Fellowship at the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology where I researched and wrote a policy briefing on palliative and end of life care. Being able to ‘look behind the curtain’ and see the hustle and bustle of Westminster up close was really interesting. Here are my three tips on making the most of secondments as a PhD student:

  1. Embrace opportunities. Whilst I was at Parliament I was given the opportunity to have a tour of the Palace of Westminster and attend Prime Minister’s Questions (on the day the Sue Gray report came out!). I often had lunch with other Research Fellows in the Palace such as in the Terrace Café on the Thames. Making the most of these opportunities really brought Westminster alive and immersed me in the culture. If you’re intercalating in order to do your placement then try to make the most of being away from your research and enjoy the breathing space. Returning to my PhD I’ve found that this distance from my research has really helped me to edit chapters that I’m no longer as close to, and make quick and pragmatic decisions.
  • Try to relate what you’re doing to your PhD research. As someone that researches the use of climate policy advice by policymakers, being able to speak to policymakers and be in their environment was truly invaluable. Whilst immersed in the secondment I saw a lot of things that I’d only read about in the public policy literature. Now that I’ve returned to my PhD, this ‘ground truthing’ has really shaped key parts of my thesis such as my theoretical framework and methods chapters.
  • Think about life after the PhD. On my long train commutes between Norwich and Westminster I had a lot of time to reflect on career opportunities after my PhD. Things that I asked myself were: Can I see myself working in this environment in the long run? What am I willing to compromise on, such as commuting and hybrid working? Do I feel like I’m making a difference, and is that important to me?

I would thoroughly recommend doing a secondment to any PhD student that feels like they need some space from their PhD, wants to develop some new skills, or just fancies a change of scenery.  I learnt a lot from my secondment and I’ve returned to my PhD feeling motivated and excited. I hope others would have a similarly positive and enlightening experience”.