The Value of Research Placements for PGRs

In this post, Laura Clark, a PGR in the Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies, shares her experience of undertaking a placement in the Home Office during her PhD, and the skills she developed as a result.

I began my PhD with a vague idea that I would look for a placement without any specific thoughts about what, where, or the things I would like to get out of the experience. After a year of trying to find something suitable, I came across the URKI Policy Internships Scheme, a three-month placement at an influential policy organisation in a parliamentary department, government department, or non-government body. It was based on the needs of the department, which meant I did not need to spend a lot of time planning out the placement, and my research topic was irrelevant providing I could demonstrate I had the required skills. I applied and, after a long process, was offered a placement with the Home Office.

The headquarters of the Home Office, in London, which Laura didn’t visit because her placement took place during COVID-19 restrictions.
Photo credit: Steve Cadman

Moving from PhD work to research outside of academia was a big shift that taught me as much about my own abilities it did about policy making. There was a variety of work available, and I was able to take part in any project I expressed interest in. I lead my own project (a literature review) and also spent time working with datasets, producing slidepacks of key statistics, and working with industry and the police (for example on the Safer Streets Fund). Alongside this, I developed a network of people – some with PhDs – who work in government research in different roles and at different levels.

What really stands out for me was how much I learned over the course of the placement. I am now able to manage work and feedback more effectively, due to regular meetings on different projects. I had the chance to develop my leadership skills by leading my own project and team meetings. A meeting on bids for government money was surprisingly confidence-boosting because differences in opinion were welcomed rather than confronted or criticised. Skills training allowed me to pick up the use of macros, while a data analyst looking for support taught me how to test for statistical significance. Perhaps most important for me as I head into my third year was the writing, feedback, rewriting, and presentation of a completed piece of research.

Ultimately, my placement was a lot more than just three months working for the Home Office. It was an integral moment of my PhD that has placed me in an excellent position to continue my research, with more advanced skills than before. I feel more confident about my career goals than I ever have. Although the UKRI scheme may not be available to all researchers, there are many organisations that are interested in working with students. Some, such as the British Library, offer a number of placements each year, but other institutions may be interested when approached by a student who is working on a topic related to their sector. The benefits are fantastic, and I highly recommend the opportunity for everyone, especially those who are unsure what they want to do after their research project or who just wish to explore career opportunities outside of academia.

For more information on internships, see Careers Network’s internships page, or log in to Careers Connect and see the ‘Appointments’ section to book an appointment with an internship officer (or the PGR Careers Advisor to talk over your options in more detail).

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