Doctoral College

My UKRI Policy Internship at Senedd Research at the National Assembly for Wales – Part 1

Written by Rob Byrne, AACME

This blog post reflects on my experience during a 3-month placement working as part of the Environment and Transport team within Senedd Research at the National Assembly for Wales. Senedd Research is an expert, impartial and confidential research and information service designed to meet the needs of Assembly Members and their staff.

Applying to policy internships for PhD students

The UKRI Policy Internships Scheme provides a unique opportunity for UKRI-funded PhD students to undertake a three-month placement in a policy organisation. Although I am funded by Loughborough University, as a member of an Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) funded CDT, I was eligible to apply.

There are a wide variety parliamentary, governmental and non-governmental host organisations to apply to. I applied to Parliamentary hosts to gain an insight into the workings of parliament and see how research supports parliamentary debate and scrutiny.

To apply, produced a policy briefing on ‘replacing the use of conventional plastics’. I chose this mainly because it was unrelated to my PhD, exhibiting an ability to write about a new topic. As plastics pollution had gained political attention at the time, it also showed some political awareness. Selecting up to date information and presenting it in a clear, concise, and totally impartial manner key considerations for the briefing.

The interview

The interview was held in the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) in Westminster with a panel of representatives from three of the UK parliaments; POST (UK Parliament), Senedd Research (National Assembly for Wales) and RaISe (Northern Ireland Assembly).

The interview focussed on:

  • Motivations to do the internship;
  • Understanding of political processes and the functions of the UK’s political bodies;
  • The role of research services within the UK Parliament and devolved administrations;
  • Ability to converse impartially, clearly and concisely; and,
  • How sources and key information were selected to include, how I might expand the briefing further, and recent related political action.

I was also asked to explain my PhD research to a ‘lay person’ – I had to unashamedly simplify this as much as possible, forgetting about any scientific knowledge that the panel (definitely) had!

First Impressions

Arriving at the National Assembly for Wales, I entered Tŷ Hywel – a red brick building holding Assembly Members (AMs), Commission staff and Cabinet offices behind the modern Senedd building on the waterfront. On entry I was greeted by my line manager and introduced to the Environment and Transport team – a friendly group who immediately made me feel very welcome, as did everyone else working at the Assembly.

The first week consisted of inductions to familiarise with the functions and processes of the Assembly and Senedd Research. Despite growing up in Wales and having an interest in Welsh politics, I gained new knowledge on the devolution settlement in Wales and the breadth legislative powers of the Assembly due to the Reserved Powers Model. In the first week, I also sat in on First Minister’s Questions (FMQs), debates in Yr Siambr (the chamber), and the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs (CCERA) Committee (the main committee which the Environment and Transport team support) – all of which were fascinating.

Initially, watching debates in action, or bumping into an Assembly Member (AM) who I’d followed in the media for years felt like a huge privilege. However, I quickly realised how open the Assembly is to the public – anyone can watch FMQs, debates and committee meetings from the modern and stylish viewing galleries or via Senedd TV. The transparency and accessibility of the Assembly, the welcoming atmosphere at Senedd Research, and the level of careful work behind each debate, committee and report, impressed on me most in the first few weeks.

Picture: The National Assembly for Wales Senedd Building, Cardiff Bay.

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