Working in Policy

You have to admit that it’s nicely vague. So what exactly does it involve?

If one had to define “working in policy”, it would be as a fusion of research, consulting and advice, often morphing into something dangerously adjacent to PR. Policy advisers provide the foundations and structure for decisions that are high- level and far reaching.


No 1 employer of policy advisers is Her Majesty’s government in its central, devolved and local incarnations (and – until spring 2019 at least – at European level too.  Post Brexit?  Your guess is as good as mine). Your overarching role in this context would be to provide objective advice, based on fact. Key functions here would be to analyse data, brief and debrief ministers (they’re not the experts here – you are), and answer questions posed by other politicians, the press, the public.

As a British Prime Minister once (allegedly) said, “A week is a long time in politics”. Things change fast, very fast. So if a political crisis brews up (and don’t they always with alarming regularity?) you’d need to be as nimble and nifty as any gymnast in grasping the implications, handling the fallout and adapting your strategy.

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Student story: My experience as a Parliamentor

27939680_1835768086441757_1340946386_nKate Reynolds, 3rd Year History student

This year I am taking part in the Three Faiths Forum’s Parliamentors scheme, which is a UN award-winning leadership programme. As a Parliamentor I work with a team of 5 students from Queen Mary who all have different faith and cultural backgrounds. We are working on a social action project centred in our local community, whilst being mentored by a local MP, Stephen Timms.

I applied for the programme because I was excited by the prospect of creating change in my local community and building my team work and leadership skills. I was also interested to be mentored by an MP as I have a keen interest in politics. Alongside being a Parliamentor, I am the co-chair of Queen Mary Labour Society, and a Beaver Scout Leader at my local Scout group. Parliamentors has offered me the opportunity to work with people of varying faiths and political alignments.

21728098_1821426744551785_8786501112084559778_nParliamentors kicks off with a training residential in September, which gives you the chance to meet the other Parliamentors both from your university and from across the country. It was a massive learning opportunity as we received training in everything from public speaking, engaging with your community and an introduction to Westminster politics. The range of people and faiths represented meant that everybody could to learn from each other. But the training doesn’t stop there – the Parliamentors team offer continued training and support throughout the year.

My team decided we wanted our social action project to focus on building interfaith relations on campus at Queen Mary. We felt that there are tensions that exist between different faiths on campus, and we wanted to do a project that would address this and bring about greater interfaith dialogue. My team are in the process of planning an interfaith gardening project focused on an onsite allotment. We believe that by bringing people of different faiths together through this allotment, we can break down barriers and challenge student’s assumptions about people of different faiths.

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Graduate story: from QMUL to the Civil Service

fullsizerenderNiva Thiruchelvam, Law graduate

Niva Thiruchelvam (NT), graduated from QMUL with a law degree in 2003 and began her career with the Civil Service Fast Stream in 2007. Since then she’s had a variety of interesting and exciting jobs, from running Oliver Letwin’s office in the Cabinet Office to negotiating EU-level changes to Free Movement policy.

She spoke to Yasmine Hafiz (YH) about her career journey.

YH: How did you become interested in the Civil Service?

NT: I fell into a career in the Civil Service. I’d read law at QMUL, and the natural next step would have been to go to law school, and then to become a barrister or a solicitor, but that didn’t hit the spot for me.

While I thought about what I wanted to do, I took various jobs, including one in the then Department for Constitutional Affairs. It was an excellent introduction to the world of policy in the Civil Service, and I loved it. I’d never really thought about the huge amount of work that went on behind the scenes to make things happen – from the conception of an idea, through to legislation in Parliament, and so on.

I discovered that the Civil Service offered a wide range of roles within each department, and that really appealed to someone like me. It’s an ideal path for someone who’s interested in everything, so I applied for the Fast Stream and my Civil Service career began there.

YH: What kind of jobs have you had within the Fast Stream?

NT: My first Fast Stream role was in the Department for Constitutional Affairs (now Ministry of Justice), getting stuck into Scottish devolution and how Scotland’sconstitutional arrangements might be strengthened.  I helped to set up and support a cross-party, independent Commission reviewing Scotland’s devolution settlement.  As part of this, I led work on communications – this ranged from running town hall events in the most remote parts of Scotland to developing a media strategy that encompassed print, broadcast and social media and involved liaising with the political editors of the major Scottish newspapers.

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Careers outside of academia for humanities and social science researchers: government and parliament

Are you a social sciences or humanities postgraduate interested in pursuing a research career, but not sure if academia is the right path right for you? Read on to find out more about other opportunities for using your research skills…

A large number of humanities and social science Masters and PhD students go on to work in research capacities outside academia. This is the first in a short series of blog posts exploring some of the other opportunities available. This post will focus on opportunities in UK government and parliament.

Working in a research role in government provides an opportunity to work on things that really matter. These roles can be challenging as the pace of work is often very fast, which sometimes means that you are unable to measure the impact of one intervention before it changes again! You may also get asked by colleagues for evidence that doesn’t really exist and/or on areas they may not be a specialist in, so communication is often a key skill requirement, alongside your strong research abilities.

Researchers in this sector are valued for their excellent research skills, which often takes precedence over their specialist subject knowledge (unless the latter is relevant to a specific role). These skills could include: understanding the ‘robustness’ of research, qualitative or quantitative analytical skills, handling large data sets (with data science a growing area in this sector), and experience of different research methods. It’s therefore important to highlight your research skills when making your application – don’t assume the recruiter will know what research experience you have just because you have a Masters or PhD!

Working in the Civil Service

Social scientists and humanities researchers are employed in a range of roles across government departments and agencies. In some cases, researchers are employed within particular departments (such as education or housing), for example in ‘Analyst’ roles. Alternatively, they may work in central research services that provide experienced researchers to work on projects with other departments across the civil service. Examples of these central services include:

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So you want to work in politics

Here are some of our top tips:

–         Every local MP has too much work to handle and will be grateful of an extra pair of hands.  If you don’t get a favourable response from yours, there are still a good number of others in London so you can try them.

–         Around the time of local and national election campaigns get involved with your local political party, there’s always plenty of work to do!

–         Whilst getting a job in local government and the civil service doesn’t rely on networking, breaking into think tanks, political party roles and public affairs certainly does.  Make sure you attend talks and events where you get to meet people in the industry.  Right on your doorstep is the prestigious Mile End Institute so why not start there?


–         Make inquiries at your local council. You may be able to apply for a placement, do some volunteering on a community programme or simply work shadow someone.

–         If you can’t get anything in the field of government and politics itself, think laterally about areas of work related to it. Try and get a few weeks work experience in a local newspaper. You can use the experience to learn to debate and express opinions on news items, or look at a government relations department in a big business, where they employ the equivalent of lobbyists.

–         Be flexible with your career plans. You could start your career working for a few years in the policy unit of a charity or NGO, for example, and then move into government, a think tank or a political party.  Equally you could work in any sector where the job itself intersects with government, such as the government relations department mentioned above.

So what’s the take-away message?

Think creatively, be persistent and flexible and get networking.


Present your foreign policy ideas to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Future Foreign Policy, the independent international affairs think tank for young people is excited to announce an exclusive workshop ‘Strategic Foresight: The World in 2025’, hosted by the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office taking place in London at their King Charles Street office on Wednesday 10th September from 4-6pm.

“The event is an engaging strategic planning workshop where we will look forward to the year 2025 and consider the future in international security, technology, economic development, ecological challenges, and social innovation. Identifying major changes in the world in the next 10 years is key to developing a comprehensive strategy to not only adapt to change, but be at the forefront of progress and innovation.

Students will have the opportunity to be at the heart of this conversation. The workshop will kick off with a keynote speech by the Joint Head of the Policy Unit in the FCO, followed by an interactive session where students will have the chance to brainstorm and present their own ideas and solutions. This will be invaluable experience to develop strategic planning capabilities and get first-hand practical advise from a senior diplomat.

If you’d like to attend this fantastic event send us an email to with a short cover explaining why they are interested in the workshop, the course they are studying and the university they are applying from.

Deadline Friday August 29th

N.B. Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis so we encourage you to apply as early as possible to avoid disappointment.”

Passion for Politics?

Have you thought about using your interest in politics in a job or career? If the answer is ‘yes’, there are plenty of opportunities out there for internships, work experience and graduate roles.

What Can I do?

Opportunities in government and politics are available at the international, national and local levels. Roles can vary from administration, policy and research to marketing and PR. You will want to determine which area you would like to work. Options include:

  • Central Government & Civil Service
  • Local Government
  • Public Affairs (Lobbying on behalf of a business or charity)
  • EU & International Politics
  • Think Tanks (organisations that conduct research on domestic and policy issues)

How do I get started?

Websites like Work For an MP, Civil Service Careers and the European Commission’s Europa are great places to start your search. For more information on where to look for vacancies and work experience, pop in to the Careers & Enterprise Centre and pick up our ‘Getting into Politics, Think Tanks & Government’ handout. We can also help students and recent graduates (up to 2 years) through the application and interview process.

What does it take?

Opportunities in politics and government are open to students from all degree subjects. When contacting employers it is important that you can demonstrate your interest in and understanding of the relevant area.

  • Be prepared to talk about the latest news stories and key people.
  • Be sure to research the party, politician, or government office to which you are applying.

According to one Queen Mary Alumni who works in the press office at a major UK political party, ‘It’s very exciting to be a part of it all and feel like you are contributing to change. However, illustrating both knowledge and passion is important in order to stand out from the crowd’.