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Research with Impact

Gemma Delafield, Will Ingram and Elena Dimitriou - How can PhD students engage in the science-policy interface?

Will Ingram, Gemma Delafield, and Elena Dimitriou give their take-home messages from a science-policy workshop held at the University of Exeter, to which Royal Society policy staff contributed.

There is an increasing emphasis on research having real-world impact. After all, our job as researchers is to generate knowledge that can change the world, even if only in a tiny way and engaging with policy-making is one of the best ways to create that impact.

Researchers of all levels can engage in the science-policy interface. You do not have to be a Professor to influence policy-making. In the eyes of Parliament, PhD students are experts and are actively being encouraged to get involved. But how exactly can PhD students engage in this process? Well we held a student workshop at the University of Exeter with a range of experts from policy and academia and these are the lessons they shared with us:

Design your PhD with policy impact in mind. Choose a research question that is relevant to people’s lives. Who cares about your research? Why is it important to them? If possible, you should consider collaborating with policy-makers throughout your PhD to ensure maximum impact.

Engage with Parliament to hold the Government to account. Luckily, there are some clear ways to do this:

  • Get in touch with POST (the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology, which provides independent analysis of relevant public policy issues). Your work might be related to their current or future work.
  • Contact the parliamentary Libraries about your research, especially if they have a briefing paper on your research. Both the House of Commons and House of Lords have Libraries that keep MP's and Lords informed on various topics. Don’t forget Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish routes of engagement.
  • Submit evidence to Select Committee inquiries. You can find out what evidence they are after by following @ParliamentaryI3 on Twitter.

Complete a policy internship. UK Research & Innovation are currently advertising three-month internships across Whitehall departments and policy organisations.

Take time to understand the policy-making processes. For instance, there is a difference between the roles of Government and Parliament, and there are some fundamental things researchers should know about how policy-making happens. We should improve our understanding of the structure of governance and find out who the key policy-makers in our specific research areas are (LinkedIn provides a good way to do this).

Make your research accessible. Policy-makers do NOT read academic papers so you will need to make your research accessible to them through different avenues such as blogs or Twitter. Use these platforms to increase your profile so people know that you are an expert in your field.

Ensure you can explain the importance of your research in 1 minute. If you can’t clearly explain the what, why and how of your research to a friend in 60 seconds then practice until you can. When communicating to policy-makers:

  • Assume intelligence but lack of knowledge
  • Be constructive, don’t just show problems but illuminate solutions
  • Avoid using jargon and acronyms

All of the above takes time, work and practice. Do not let failures stop you. If you want your research to change the world, you need to be persistent.

To view this blog post in full and for further information, please click here.

Date: 8 August 2018

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