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.

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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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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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How to become a Politician’s assistant

How do you become a Politician’s assistant, what do they do and how much do they earn?

There is no standard route to get into politics – it’s more about your work experience, attitude and understanding of the industry. The Prospects website is full of job profiles, which are a great way to find out about the different types of jobs available.  They list typical daily tasks and responsibilities and the skills required to help you decide whether it is the sort of role you would be good at and enjoy.

There’s also information about how to gain work experience and find vacancies, plus ideas on related job roles that you could be interested in. See the newly updated Politician’s Assistant profile.

Top tips from Careers & Enterprise:

  • Writing experience – strong writing skills are highly valued in this sector, so get experience writing for different audiences in a concise way. You could start your own blog or contribute to newsletters/campus newspaper etc.
  • Network – make connections with people who you can contact for more information and advice. This could be from talking to alumni at careers events, speaking to employers at careers fairs or presentations or talking to a friend/family member about their job.
  • Volunteer with a local political society/party or campaign group – get involved in local issues or join a society on campus.
  • Research the sector – Sites such as W4MP contain a huge amount of information and resources on working in Politics. You may also discover upcoming events and work experience opportunities along the way.

For more information about a career in politics, think tanks and government, see our online ‘getting into …’ guide.

Creating social change with ParliaMentors

Afsana_blog_imageAfsana Salik, 3rd Year International Relations student

ParliaMentors is a political leadership programme I’ve been on this year while studying at Queen Mary. I’m in a team of 5 Queen Mary students, all of us from different cultural and religious backgrounds. we’re supported to run our own social action project and we also get mentored by an MP. It has been an amazing experience for me.

It’s such a wonderful initiative that gives students from various cultures and faiths the chance to participate and make a change in society. The great thing about it is that it gives opportunities to students like me the experience of parliamentary life through mentoring by MPs. I’ve been mentored by Labour MP Stephen Timms for the last year. He is a very active and committed MP and so passionate about what he does. ParliaMentors also trains us to make social change in our communities. I’ve loved the training that I’ve been given throughout the programme. Each of these training sessions is based around skills like teamwork, leadership and public speaking, and they have been so useful and beneficial. And the training didn’t just support my participation in the programme – it also helped me in other areas, helping me to look at my community from a different angle.

My group and I have decided to deliver a social action project on mental health. We started by doing broad research into mental health in our local borough of Tower Hamlets, and after some thought, we have decided to focus on our campus. We are bringing together the students’ union, counselling service and students to bring changes in our counselling system, in order to make it more accessible. We believe our work will benefit the future students of our university and hopefully others in Tower Hamlets who also uses similar services.

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How to get a job in public affairs

Stuart Thomson, Head of Public Affairs at Bircham Dyson Bell, recently came to give a talk to students at Queen Mary. In this really helpful blog post he explains how he got to where he is today and what his tips are for students and graduates looking to make their career in public affairs: www.campaigneracademy.com/2015/11/17/the-public-affairs-career-challenge/.

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?

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–         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.