Roz Latham – UKRI policy intern at The Royal Society

Roz Latham is a PhD student at the University of Leeds who did a 3-month remote placement with The Royal Society (RS), who are based in London. The RS is the UK’s National Academy of Science and has diverse functions, from funding and publishing scientific research, to public and educational engagement, to policy advice, among others. Read Roz’s case study below to find out what she got involved in and how she decided to pursue this placement!

What did you do?

I worked in The Royal Society’s Policy function – ‘Policy’ is the principles or course of action that an organisation (often the Government) sets to direct their actions in a particular area. For example, the Government’s science policy will dictate how much money the Government will invest in R&D or how to regulate different scientific technologies, to name a few. The Royal Society acts as one of many policy-advice bodies. This means they conduct research to understand the policy landscape and then write policy briefings/proposals for the Government to help them decide what policy to adopt. Such research includes desk-based research (reading news articles, other organisations’ reports, academic papers) and convening key stakeholders (academic experts, government departments, etc.) to discuss the issues at hand and collaboratively shape the policy for that area. My work was in the Genetic Technologies policy team. This team had two key streams of work and I was actively involved in both.

The majority of my work supported the RS’s policy proposal for how the UK should regulate the products of gene editing and genetic modification post-Brexit, as a follow up to their response to Defra’s consultation on the matter in 2021. I worked closely with my manager to map the policy landscape (i.e. what the UK and other countries currently do), and challenges to implementing the RS’s desired outcome (to regulate GE/GM based on the product not the process used to produce it). I attended meetings with key stakeholders (Defra’s Chief Scientific Advisor Gideon Henderson, leading plant science researchers and others) to listen to the highest-level discussions on the regulatory reforms – it was amazing to get exposure to such senior people across the public and academic sectors and listen to world experts discuss real regulatory challenges and opportunities. I also participated in smaller meetings with academics from Rothampsted Research to get their expert insights into the plant breeding process, and I was encouraged to lead the conversations which was a great opportunity. Alongside this broader work my key deliverables were to write an extended policy report on how the UK could incorporate non-safety considerations (ethics, sustainability, economics etc) into the new GE/GM regulations that will be created post-Brexit. My meetings with stakeholders as well as plenty of desk-based research fed into this, as did continuous feedback and guidance from my manager. I then turned this extended report into a 4 page ‘PostNote’ style policy briefing, intended as an executive summary to make the information accessible to a wider audience who don’t have the time or need to read the whole report (this is a common exercise in the policy world). I also initiated and led a workstream to develop the Royal Society’s support for employees with hidden disabilities, and wrote a briefing on how this could be done. To come away with concrete deliverables was really rewarding and gave focus and direction to my placement.

The other aspect of my work with the gene-tech team was to help organise the Third International Summit on Human Genome Editing. I sat in on the monthly summit-planning committee meetings, whose members included multiple Nobel Laureates and other world experts in gene-editing technologies, law, bioethics, clinical medicine and regulations. This gave me incredible exposure to the most high-level discussions from world experts on how to shape the International Summit. My work included minute taking and metrics gathering and analysis.

Overall, my work was diverse, interesting and very rewarding. I can’t recommend a policy placement with the RS more.

What made you want to do that particular placement?

I became aware of Policy as a potential career route from my sister who is a policy advisor in the Civil Service, and after learning more about it from her I thought it could match my skill set and interests well. I saw the UKRI policy internship scheme advertised and I chose The Royal Society as my first-choice host organisation (more details below). I chose the RS because they had a Genetic Technologies team and as I work in gene-editing for my PhD and am very interested in how to regulate gene-tech to maximise societal benefit and minimise harm, this was the perfect fit for me. Also, the RS has a historic and international reputation as one of the world-leading authorities on science policy, and has access to the most important and influential science and policy stakeholders so I knew I would get a lot of exposure and great insights working with them.

How did you go about finding and planning your PIPS?

Having identified Policy as an area I wanted to experience I kept an eye on the WR newsletter for PIPs opportunities.  I saw the UKRI policy internship scheme advertised and went through their application process – most Policy internships available to PGRs are provided through this UKRI policy internship scheme. There are ~30 ‘host organisations’ that you choose from (selecting your first and second choice) and adapt your application to your chosen host organisation, but using the centralised UKRI application portal and deadlines.

Having gone through the application process (CV, answers to questions such as ‘why this host organisation, why policy, describe your PhD in 250 words to a non-science audience’, and writing a 2 page policy briefing on a topic of my choice), I was selected for interview via Zoom. When I was offered the place I was in touch with a member of the RS directly to arrange my start date and delivery of my IT equipment as I worked from home due to the pandemic. Overall, it was a very easy process.

What have you gained from doing your PIPS?

I’ve gained a great taste for policy research (although I recognise policy research at a Learned Society is very different to that working for the Government).  It’s given me a lot of motivation to pursue this as a career, which is what I’d hoped to get out of my PIPs. I’ve had great exposure to influential people, seen first-hand a glimpse how regulations are formed, gained confidence in my abilities outside of anything I’ve ever tried before, developed policy-writing skills and just overall had a really fun time!

How would you sum up your PIPS experience?

I had a really great time on my PIPs. The team at the RS were so friendly, fun, supportive and interesting. I had great mentorship from my manager and had monthly catch-ups with the Chief Science Policy Officer along with other interns, so interns at the RS are really respected and valued. Despite working from home I actually ‘met’ lots of people (as an intern you’re encouraged to network outside of your team and learn what other people at the RS do) so I have come away with some great relationships. I had to be proactive to set myself challenging targets, but because I did I had such a rewarding, stimulating and stretching experience that has given me skills, experience and confidence to take back to my PhD and for the future job hunt.

What advice would you give to other PGRs about PIPS?

I think with every PIPS you get out what you put in. I had to be proactive and push for objectives, set myself stretching targets with the guidance of my manager, and take the initiative to develop workstreams in areas I was passionate about. But the RS is the perfect place to do that as I was given the autonomy and support to do so. If after some research you think you’d be genuinely interested in science policy and want a place that gives you creative freedom to explore different areas, skills and situations then I’d really recommend the RS’s Policy placement.

Other advice is to be proactive at looking for these opportunities: the UKRI policy internship scheme only opens for applications once a year. And the application process is pretty intense (it took me a whole week as I had to write a policy briefing from scratch + other application questions) so check out what the deadlines are and what you need to do before them. Also do your research on the organisation, whether you are inspired by their work and think you’d like to work for them after your PhD. Try and use your network to see if you can get in contact with anyone who’s done a placement with that organisation before (very useful for interview prep).

Overall, be proactive and also be excited at the opportunity to try something new for 3 months and think about whether that could inspire a future career.

Note from the DTP Co-ordinator:

Think you might be interested in a UKRI policy internship? 

The annual application portal for the UKRI policy internships has recently opened for placements to take place in 2022.  The closing date for applications is 4th October 2021.  For more information on the scheme and how to apply, see the PIPS advert on this website – note the information about expenses – and follow the link from there: 

UKRI policy internships for 2022.