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Sector: Policy and Governance

Spring 2013


Between 4th March and 25th May, I spent twelve weeks at Defra.  This experience was an excellent insight into working at the interface between science and policy, and will certainly help me in choosing a career beyond my PhD: I now hope to have a job in science that influences policy, either as an academic or policymaker.  This placement has already had an effect on the direction of my PhD research (despite only having been back in Cambridge for three days!)

Whilst at Defra, I predominantly worked on the UK-China Sustainable Agriculture Innovation Network (SAIN).  I spent the first six weeks of my placement preparing several papers for the SAIN Governing Board meeting in Beijing in April.  Three papers mapping out the current UK-China links in policy, academia and industry were discussed, as were three papers covering a range of issues including the future challenges to sustainable agriculture in the UK, sustainable intensification, and the role of agriculture in socio-economic development.

The papers were received well by the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture, and agreement was reached on several issues, including, for example, the need to expand the SAIN working groups to include industry.  It was also decided that engaging teams from throughout Defra in the work of SAIN is very important, in order to ensure that decisions made across different Defra projects are consistent with the decisions made by SAIN.

The second six weeks of my time at Defra were mostly spent putting the recommendations of the SAIN Governing Board into practice - including, for example, discussing with the China-Britain Business Council the possibility of surveying businesses in the UK and China about their involvement with SAIN, and leading a discussion with Defra policy leads about engaging them with SAIN.  I also found time to meet with Defra employees that undertake mathematical modelling, and to spend a day shadowing the Defra Chief Scientific Advisor.

I enjoyed my placement very much, and certainly appreciated having my own project to work on at Defra initially (namely the papers for the SAIN Governing Board meeting).  [My manager] was excellent to work for, and was prepared to sit down and work with me throughout the placement.  I would recommend that other PhD students seek [my manager] as a PIPs employer in the future, and undertake a placement at Defra too - if they do, I hope that they find the experience as valuable as I did.