…..‘any degree from the school of PPLS will provide you with a useful foundation for working in the field of policy advice’, states Liz, a 2009 Edinburgh philosophy graduate now working as Policy Advice Officer for the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
Via a Masters in Political Theory and a range of different internships and roles with organisations as diverse as Barnados, Graham Bell Associates Public Affairs Consultancy, Scottish Council for Independent Schools, an economic development consultancy and human rights charity in India, Liz has developed her career in the field of policy work.
Use the Q&As below to find out more about her journey into policy work, and her invaluable advice on getting into this area. (And use all the Careers Service Policy Work resources to help you with your research).
- What do you do in your current job with the Royal Society of Edinburgh?
As Policy Advice Officer I am responsible for coordinating and producing responses to UK and Scottish Government consultations, and for producing policy papers and recommendations for use by Government and other decision makers on a range of topics. I also assist with evidence gathering and report writing for independent inquiries, and coordinate events and seminars to inform public debate on policy decisions.
What have you done prior to this role with the Royal Society?
- MSc Political Theory, London School of Economics and Political Sciences
- Policy Advice Unit Research Intern, Barnardos, London
- Research Internship, Graham Bell Associates Public Affairs Consultancy, Coldstream
- Research Consultant, GEN Economic Development Consultancy, Glasgow
- Research & Liaison Officer, Scottish Council of Independent Schools, Edinburgh
- Research Volunteer, South Indian Cell for Human Rights Education and Monitoring, Bangalore
- Policy Advice Officer, Royal Society of Edinburgh
How have you used the skills and/or knowledge developed during your degree in your career?
Philosophy is a subject which equips you with lots of very relevant transferable skills. In particular, studying Philosophy has equipped me with strong analytical skills, which I frequently use in order to make practical predictions and recommendations about the possible impacts and effects of abstract concepts, such as Government policy proposals.
Studying Philosophy has also enabled me to develop my communication skills, both written and verbal. Understanding the formal structure of arguments makes it easier to develop clear and concise arguments in favour of or against a certain position, and to weigh up the pro’s and con’s of different positions.
I also frequently rely upon the research skills I gained whilst studying and researching different essay questions. Knowing how to gather useful information, and also how to sift through a lot of complex material to pick out only the key information, is a skill which is relevant in many jobs.
What experience do you feel helped you get where you are now?
I think my degree and my masters provided me with the majority of the skills which I rely upon most heavily at work, and in a less direct way taught me how to think and make decisions about what I want to do. However, possessing relevant skills and having an idea about what you want to do is only a start. I learned that you have to be able to demonstrate that you can apply your skills before many places will employ you. Therefore, I think the most directly helpful experience in my career progression has been undertaking internships, both during and after my master’s. This experience allowed me to talk confidently in interviews, not just about the skills I possessed, but also about how I had applied them in a work context.
Reflecting back on your career path between graduation and your current job; what career decisions did you make and how?
When I graduated from university, I had a clear idea of what I didn’t want to do, but not a very clear idea of what I did want to do. I therefore wanted to gather as much information as I could about what jobs were out there, and what skills and experience I would need to do them.
- I attended careers fairs and
- made one to one appointments with careers advisors.
- I also searched job sites on the internet (NB many of the sites linked via our Policy Work section have vacancies on them. Ed) and the job pages in newspapers extensively. There are so many jobs and companies that you never hear about, so doing this sort of research is really useful for getting a clear idea of the opportunities that are available.
- Work experience is also really useful, I did two internships before starting full time employment, one with a charity and one with a private company. This enabled me to get an idea of what sort of work I enjoy and what sort of environment I work best in. The Centre for Scottish Public Policy has an excellent internship program which I cannot recommend highly enough.
What advice would you offer to students who want to get into your area of work?
Any degree from the school of PPLS will provide you with a useful foundation for working in the field of policy advice. When you get to the stage of job applications and interviews it is then really important to know how the skills you have gained during your degree study can be applied to the job that you want to do. A useful exercise is to try and match the skills you have gained during your study with the key competencies outlined in the job description of the role that you are applying for. (NB the booklet ‘Employability Guide for Philosophy Students’ can help you with this. Ed)
I also think that trying to get some work experience before you leave university or soon after is very useful. There aren’t many graduate training schemes for policy advice or public affairs roles, so the process of gaining the skills and experience you need is likely to be slightly more organic and self-driven than for someone wanting to join a large private sector organisation with a dedicated graduate scheme. You therefore need to be quite proactive in seeking out opportunities and gaining experience.
What general advice would you offer students making career decisions today?
Don’t listen to doom and gloom stories about the recession! There are plenty of jobs out there, you might not be able to walk straight into a highly paid role that offers full on-the-job training (you might!), but there are loads of jobs in loads of organisations that you have probably never heard of. It is well worth doing the research.
I would also say that it is important to keep a clear idea in mind of what you do (or even just what you definitely don’t) want to do. It can be easy to end up on a career trajectory that you don’t want to be on, especially if it is proving difficult to get into the field that you want to. If there is something that you want to do, then it is worth investing in. You might have to work part-time in a bar while you do an internship or complete a master’s degree, but if this helps you to get where you want to be, it is well worth it.