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PhD students offered policy internships at Scottish government

PhD students funded by the Natural Environment Research Council who have completed their first year of study can apply to spend three months working for the Scottish government under a scheme launched on 21 September.

“We’re looking for students to expand their skills so they can see how evidence is used to inform policy,” says Stuart Muirhead, who is managing the scheme at the Scottish government.

“It’s also advantageous for the Scottish government because they get a well-qualified student to work on a particular project,” he told Research Fortnight.

The internships are being offered in three areas: improving agricultural productivity through science and innovation; working at the Scottish government’s Geographic Information Science and Analysis Team; and analysing responses to a public consultation on its draft national marine plan. NERC students can also apply for an open scheme where they will be considered for any projects that arise during 2012.

“They will get involved in a lot of secondary analysis although some students will conduct their own interviews,” says Muirhead. “But they will also perform a whole load of other tasks that will give them experience of the policy environment.”

The students will be funded for a three-month extension to their PhD and helped to relocate or commute to Edinburgh.

The Academy of Medical Sciences has launched a similar scheme for students funded by the Medical Research Council. The academy ran a pilot scheme in partnership with the Wellcome Trust in 2009, which was so successful it ran for a further 3 years.

The MRC-funded scheme has been launched partly because of the success of the Wellcome Trust scheme, says Laurie Smith, a policy manager at the academy.

“The schemes are designed to give students first-hand experience of the medical-science policy environment, to gain insights into how research can impact on policy, and to build valuable networks with the UK’s most eminent medical scientists and key science and health stakeholders,” the academy said in a statement.

But Catherine Luckin, a policy officer at the academy, sees additional advantages. “We also see a wider benefit in providing PhD students with insight into science policy, as the start of the process of engagement with policy for the UK’s future scientific leaders,” she says.