by Lucy Goodman, PhD Student, Department of Geography

I am part of the “Cambridge ESRC Doctoral Training Partnership“, which includes the opportunity to carry out a placement with industry, the third sector or Government Departments, through the Cambridge Grand Challenges (CGC).

Spending four years investigating a hunch, working entirely by yourself, is an exhilarating freedom. I am investigating the conflicts and contested discussions around sustainable development by reviewing the planning processes and impacts of large dams. However, PhDs can also be very isolating. So, a fellowship for a PhD student is a terrific opportunity to get back into the workplace and look at a completely different topic.

Since June 2021, I’ve been on a placement within the Civil Service – specifically in the Cabinet Office. The Cabinet Office supports the Prime Minister and Cabinet in co-ordinating and agreeing collective policy decisions and has been heavily involved in supporting the UK’s G7 Presidency this year. I have been working in the Economic Resilience team in the International Economic Unit (National Security Secretariat), who support the G7 Panel on Economic Resilience chaired by Mark Sedwill, former Cabinet Secretary and National Security Advisor. A major portion of the work focused on getting the final report out with its recommendations. The Panel, formed of eight leading economic and security thinkers, is responsible for the negotiated content, but the secretariat acted as both pen holders and fact-finders.

I have worked before starting the PhD, but never within a government; therefore, the fellowship advert for a Civil Service placement shared by CGC’s founder Dr Konstantina Stamati back in March 2021 appealed. It was an opportunity to get experience working for the government without committing to a career change or lengthy interview process. It ticked all the boxes an fellowship should, increasing my network, exposing me to new ideas and helping me better understand the government process, all of which I hope will help me get a job in the future.

However, there were also some take-homes from the fellowship I had not expected.

• First, it was a reminder that something perfect, isn’t going to have as much real-world use as something timely. As with the PhD, it can be hard to let something go into the public domain until every reference has been exhausted, but this never-ending process might mean it never informs policy when needed.
• Second, it was a chance to learn how to work collaboratively with other people again and not be afraid to get feedback after years of working alone.
• Finally, coming into the office really did feel like being at the heart of government with Downing Street visible through the window. It gave me a sense of public purpose to be working so close to the news on matters that affect people’s lives.

If you are interested in getting a fellow in your team from Cambridge, I recommend contacting the Cambridge Grand Challenges at:

Lucy Goodman’s placement with The Cabinet Office took place between June and October 2021

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