GO Science- thoughts on my first month and a half in policy

As you may well have seen, last month I started a 3 month NERC policy placement at the Government Office of Science, or GO Science as it’s slightly strangely known as. You can read about the scheme, why I chose to do it and how to get involved here and get some hints on the application form here.

Now I’m approaching the halfway point of my placement (where has that gone??), I thought it would be a good time to talk about my initial impressions and what it’s like to work at GO Science.

GO Science is relatively small- although we’re in the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills which is huge, the office is small enough that you get to know the majority of people quite quickly. They also seem to rely quite a lot on interns- not just policy placements but general internships meaning that there is a good range of ages and skill sets and they are well set up for having an intern- I’m not just left doing dull jobs or simply twiddling my thumbs trying to hunt out work as I have been in other places. Things were a bit slow to start with as I’m in quite a small team but I’ve now got properly stuck into a project it’s much better.

One thing that surprised me about GO Science is the number of people with Dr. in front of their name. The civil service as a whole seems keen to promote generalists and there are plenty here who have a non scientific background but it’s somewhat reassuring that a large number of people dealing with science policy do actually have a scientific background, to the extent that it’s not uncommon for people to have done a post doc or two before they come here. The mix of this and generalists with experiences as diverse as having worked in Afghanistan and India I think works really well.

This does mean though that if you have a scientific specialism then be prepared to be asked all about it. Sir Mark Walport, the Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor has recently been in Svalbard and this has led to me being asked a whole range of questions from whether or not he has to have an armed guard when in the Arctic to the state of the sea ice. The fact I do Antarctica doesn’t matter!

It’s been really easy to get to know people and that has been helped by the fact that in my second week there was a quiz and a bake off, two of the best things. There is never a  shortage of interesting conversations around the office, people here are genuinely interested in science.

In term of the work itself I’ve been organising a high profile event, written a briefing note for Sir Mark and presented my own science to the department. I have to admit the area I’m working in isn’t exactly what I’m interested in but regardless of the opportunity to learn new things there are still plenty of chances to see what else is going on in the department and even maybe visit other government departments to work shadow. So plenty to look forward to until returning to the PhD…

RCUK Policy Internships- 1 week to go! Hints on the application form

The deadline for RCUK policy internships is 16:00 on 28 August 2015!

I’m currently based at the Government Office of Science doing one- feel free to contact me with questions but for anyone who’s applying here are some hints that I was given for the application form, and some things that I’ve picked up along the way:

  • Think carefully about the topic of your policy briefing. It needs to be something you understand well to make sure you cover it fully but at the same time make sure it is far enough away from your research topic to show that you can be adaptable and learn new things easily, skills you will definitely need on the internship (I’m currently organising an event around an area I didn’t even know the definition of before I came here…).
  • You need to show you can be impartial so picking a topic that is a bit contraversial or even has a small amount of debate associated with it will help. I did geoengineering for this reason.
  • Keep it specifiic- it’s very short so hard to cover anything in depth. I ended up just covering a specific area of geoengineering to make sure I could deal with it fully.
  • Don’t assume that the briefing note will just go away once it’s sent off. Remember why you wrote it and how you did it.
  • Put in the time- I heard rumours that the largest cut in applications is between application form and interview stage so it’s important to get this first stage right.
  • Be honest. They’re not expecting everyone to have a burning ambition to have a career in policy. I didn’t- and as long as you justify your understanding of why it’s important to make links with policy makers you can still benefit from the scheme.
  • Don’t stress too much about the organisation you apply to. I’ve met people who loved it each of the organisations on offer.

Good luck!

RMetS Student conference- what happens at a student conference and why you should go to this one even if you think you shouldn’t

I first asked my supervisor about the RMetS (Royal Meteorological Society) student conference in my first year and he quite rightly suggested it wouldn’t be relevant- on the face of it I’m not really a meteorologist so it wouldn’t be a good use of my time and funds.

However, speaking to those who had been before I came to realise that this wasn’t the case at all. So when this year I had a convenient couple of days between moving out of Reading and starting at the Government Office of Science that just so happened to coincide with the 2015 conference I thought I may as well give it a go, after all it was certain to beat being homeless for a couple of days.

So it turned out to be a pretty useful 3 days. Although some of the talks and posters about atmospheric processes may have gone completely over my head (no pun intended) there was still a lot that I not only understood, but found relevant. I need to know about other processes that are happening both in the ocean and the atmosphere to put my research into context and could well be asked about them during my viva…

There were so many good talks on a range of areas connected to (but not always purely) meteorology but my personal favourites were Jenny Turton’s talk on foehn winds (obviously I’m biased as this was on Larsen C but Jenny is a really good speaker!), Becky Hemingway on the Met Office’s vehicle overturning model and Hannah Barrett’s talk on historical ship log book data. Special mention also has to go to Flavia Pinheiro for making data assimilation accessible, no mean feat to say the least.

Aside from directly learning about science I’ve heard mentions that many supervisors don’t encourage students to attend as they don’t realise the value of the conference in forming early career networks. It may be valuable in the short term to present your work to established researchers but what the RMetS student conference provides is not only a safe and friendly environment in which to practice doing this but also lots of very good questions and chances to get to know colleagues who you may well work with in the future. Although we’re very in lucky to have a big PhD community at Reading (as I think the other attendees came to realise at the ice breaker session) PhDs in general can be very isolating and it’s always nice to meet new people that are in the same boat as you. Social activities such as the BBQ, conference dinner and mini sports day ice breaker were perfect for this.

The ice breaker session- lots of meteorologists sportsing well.

The ice breaker session- lots of meteorologists sportsing well. (Photo Carly Wright)

As well as student talks and posters we had two panel sessions, providing expert opinions on topics including communicating science, the upcoming COP21 and careers in meteorology- lots of useful insights and honest answer to questions.

A lovely highlight for me was being asked as a result of the conference to speak to the Scottish branch of RMetS in early 2016. 2 of us were chosen from the conference for this and I feel like a bit of a fraud as there were many presenters much earlier on in their PhDs who presented much more articulately than I ever could have done at that stage I’m sure, but nevertheless it’s always good to know that people find what you do interesting and understand what you’re saying!

Giving my talk- the penultimate one of the whole conference but thankfully I think everyone stayed awake.

Giving my talk, the penultimate one of the whole conference but thankfully I think everyone stayed awake. (Photo Carly Wright)

The only downsides of the conference were the heat (cue some kind of “you’re meteorologists, can’t you fix that?” comment) and having to deal with James Mollard’s jokes for 3 full days…

Pokemon Cake- the final result!

P1090053 So here it is, we’ve been through how to make Pikachu, Weedle, Snorlax, Jigglypuff and Dewgong, and now it’s time to put it all together.

The cake is nice and easy to cover as you can cover half in white, half in red and use the black to cover the messy bits.

This was the first cake made for Reading’s branch of Free Cake for Kids- a charity that provides home made birthday cakes for kids that otherwise wouldn’t get them. You can find out about their work or get involved here. There are local branches over the country and you can volunteer as a baker or recommend children you think may be in need of a birthday cake.

As this was the first cake that the Reading branch made we made it into the paper, and Jo (who set up the Reading branch) and I went on BBC Radio Berkshire to talk about the charity. We’ve since made over 50 cakes between all the volunteer bakers, have a look here!

Jo who set and up the Reading branch of Free Cakes for Kids and me getting photographed for the paper with our first cake.

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Fondant Icing Dewgong

We’ve had Pikachu, Weedle, Snorlax and Jigglypuff, now it’s time for my own choice, Dewgong. No harm in trying to educate the kids through cake.

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Dewgong is mostly one piece, he’s a sausage from which you can stretch out the tail and then bend it over to lean over the cake.  As I made these the day before the cake I used a food colouring pot to hold him in shape. The front flippers are separate and the mouth is a hole with some peach icing stuck into the back to give it colour.

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Initial sketches of Dewgong

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Fondant Icing Jigglypuff

Onwards and upwards from Weedle, and joining Monday’s popular Pikachu, here’s Jigglypuff (try and get that song out of your head now if you’re a nineties kid…).

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Jigglypuff is essentially just a big ball, you can stick the hands, feet, ears etc. on using spaghetti and the eyes will attach with just a little water. Gel food colouring is best as it won’t get too sticky. Make a hole for the mouth (I used the end of a fork) and add the little hair tuft by bending round a sausage shape. Simples.

Make him slightly thinner than you want, he’ll sag a bit if you leave him overnight.

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Fondant Icing Weedle



Yesterday I started my Pokemon cake series of posts with Pikachu– today it’s Weedle’s turn. Not really anyone’s favourite, a massive pain in Viridian Forest but as all Pokemon fans will know this little guy has a bright future ahead of him so I think he’s worth a go. Also he’s dead easy to make and you can use up all your left over colours to make brown fondant.


P1090036As I said yesterday the trick is spaghetti and gel food colouring, although as Weedle is essentially just a load of balls he holds himself together pretty well, you just need the one strand of spaghetti to keep his head at the right angle.
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As Weedle is a bit lame to make this post more worthwhile here’s the video I used to inspire my Snorlax- I’m not going to post about Snorlax separately as to be honest I can’t top this: 

Here’s my Snorlax for what it’s worth, just to prove that it can be done:

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Come back tomorrow for Jigglypuff!