Maria Thorpe

Maria completed a 3 month fellowship with the Paliamentary Office of Science and Technology during her PhD.

 

 

 Meeting these people helped me realise just how valuable the non subject specific skills gained from a PhD are and opened up many careers possibilities outside of academia.

Course: PhD in Applied Mathematics (4 years)

Throughout the year the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) accepts PhD students to complete 3-month fellowships in parliament, sponsored by the UK research councils. The fellows either work with POST, The House of Commons Library or with a select committee. 

After undergoing a rigorous selection process, involving submitting a two-page briefing on a topic of interest to parliament, and interviews at POST in Westminster, applicants were narrowed down and four students, including Maria, were eventually chosen.

Maria was lucky enough to work both with POST and the Science and Environment Section (SES) of the House of Commons Library during her time in Westminster.

We asked Maria to tell us about her work during the fellowship, what she learnt and how she felt the experience would help in her PhD:

 
The House of Commons Library provides impartial research to MPs and their aides on topics that are relevant to their constituency, being debated in parliament, or matter within the EU. Within SES this could mean researching anything from agricultural policies to flood defence methods to planning laws and writing briefings, or constructing debate packs, on each topic. All of this was completely new to me, however, thanks to the research skills picked up over the course of my PhD, I felt comfortable with the research process; distilling the question posed to it's most important parts, skimming through background material to get a feel for the topic, succinctly answering the problem and highlighting areas of further interest.
 
Whilst the House of Commons Library quickly answers questions posed by members of parliament, POST tries to predict topics that will be of interest to MP's. As a POST fellow you are once again working on topics which may be completely alien to you, I was looking at the intricacies of a type of medical treatment known as mitochondrial donation, however the same research skills you use to write literature reviews, gather data and weigh the merits of academic papers are again of invaluable use here.
 
During my time with POST I was working on one topic to be able to write an in depth brief available to both Parliament and the public, whereas at the Library briefings were often for the sole use of the member commissioning them. In both cases I learnt a great deal about working to tight deadlines, succinctly summarising evidence and writing for a non specialist audience, which will hopefully improve the style and structure of my thesis when the time comes to write up.
 
Working in the Palace of Westminster was a fantastic experience and getting to know first hand how our parliament actually works was fascinating. I was able to attend debates and select committee meetings and tour the palace archives and towers. One of the best parts of my time there though was meeting the many people, from lobbyists and select committee clerks to library and party researchers, who were using the skills they'd learnt during their PhDs to help MP's make evidence based policy decisions firmly rooted in science. Meeting these people helped me realise just how valuable the non subject specific skills gained from a PhD are and opened up many career possibilities outside of academia.
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