Claire Smithson – Sense about Science

Claire Smithson, a third-year at student at the University of Leeds, spent three months working for Sense about Science, an independent London-based charity that promotes public interest in sound science and evidence.

The featured image is of Claire on her placement

Where did you go and what did you do?

During my time at Sense about Science, I was involved in a range of projects aiming to bring together policymakers, researchers and the general public. When I first joined, I was involved with Sense about Science’s first “Evidence Week in Holyrood”, an event that followed on from the success of “Evidence Week in Westminster”, a week-long virtual event to bring together the general public, researchers and MSPs. I was responsible for contacting Scottish community groups and MSPs to encourage them to get involved.

The second project I was involved with was in supporting research, design and the launch of Sense about Science’s independent COVID-19 scoping inquiry called “What Counts?”, which aimed to understand how the decisions made by the Government during the COVID-19 pandemic served the general public. As a result of my involvement, I was invited to the official launch at the Institute for Government in May 2022. The report is available to read online here.

My main project during my time at Sense about Science was organising the May ‘Standing up for Science’ workshop at the Norwich Research Park. Standing up for Science workshops fall under the Voice of Young Science network, an international network of early career researchers (ECRs) committed to standing up for sound science and evidence. The Standing up for Science workshops are free and aim to equip ECRs, from all scientific backgrounds, with the knowhow to engage with the media and policymakers. I was responsible for inviting panellists and shortlisting applicants. The day was really successful and we managed to secure a high calibre of panellists including the Minister for Science, Head of Policy at the Royal Society, two BBC journalists (TV & Radio) and the Communications Coordinator at the COVID-19 Genomics consortium.

“One of the biggest things I gained from my PIPS was confidence across all areas.”

What made you want to do that particular placement?

One of the main things I wanted to get out of my internship was to learn more about careers that are science-focussed, whilst developing skills out of the lab. Sense about Science work across policy and public engagement, which gave me the opportunity to gain experience in a number of different areas.

How did you go about finding and planning your PIPS?

I wanted to do my placement at a workplace that was familiar with the PIPS scheme, so I spent some time researching organisations that regularly do PIPS placements. During my research, I identified Sense about Science as a potential organisation. I noticed that they had advertised on the White Rose DTP Placement page, so I got in touch with Hamid at Sense about Science and sent them my CV and a cover letter. Following an interview over Teams, I was offered an internship, with the option of three different start dates.

What have you gained from doing your PIPS?

One of the biggest things I gained from my PIPS was confidence across all areas. During my internship I was given the opportunity to get involved in a number of projects – many of which were out of my comfort zone. Being trusted to deliver these successfully was a real boost to my confidence.

“Taking a break from my research gave me the opportunity to develop new skills and to come back to my research with fresh eyes.”

How would you sum up your PIPS experience?

I really enjoyed my time on my PIPS. No week was the same and I enjoyed working in a team in a different environment to my lab work. I learned a lot in a short amount of time and I am grateful to Sense about Science for the opportunity. (But I did miss the lab and my lab groups!).

What advice would you give to other PGRs about PIPS?

There is no perfect time during your research to go on PIPS! The earlier you get your PIPS placement sorted, the better. Taking a break from my research gave me the opportunity to develop new skills and to come back to my research with fresh eyes.