What is it like to be a government intern?

By Nadine Thomas

I walked across a large open office space to find my desk. On it was a large sign (Nadine Gilmour, Health and Social Care Analysis). After being introduced to some very friendly faces to my left, right, in front of me, behind me, I was set to work–treated just like one of the team.

The day before I had no clue what to expect, and that morning I had no idea how to introduce myself on the phone (Hi, Nadine Gilmour here, I’m phoning from…Scottish Government?). However, a meeting with my sponsor (supervisor) put me immediately at ease and made clear what the next 3 months would look like.

And they were pacey, packed and varied. For example, one day I was at a Director General meeting, listening to the upcoming challenges and opportunities for the civil service in Scotland, next I found myself at a stakeholder group meeting, looking at data sources to evaluate a new piece of legislation, later on I was analysing survey data at my desk, and then presenting findings to a team of policy-makers and local authorities. I was listening to, motivated and flexibly led by my sponsor. Support also came in all shapes and sizes from the wider research team. In the end, on top of completing the project, I also had the opportunity to present my PhD project to other civil servants, and create networks outside of Scottish Government that will help me no end, during my PhD and probably beyond.

Before the internship I had never considered a career in research outside of academia. Interning in social research showed me the variety of research roles that exist outside of universities. I saw many benefits to government social research, and found it:

  • Rewarding – because of quick and potentially significant level of impact associated with work
  • Dynamic – because of the fast pace of work and rapid turn-around deadlines
  • Challenging – since there is less scope for ‘specialisms’, as researchers rotate around departments, and work with a diverse group of professionals
  • Meaningful – since it directly relates to public good by providing impartial evidence for policy makers to make more informed decisions

But I became aware of drawbacks too. Less freedom to direct research questions, potentially less time to mull over the nuances of findings, or try out new research methods. Where does the trade-off lie? I think we will all differ on that one.

Either way, coming back to the PhD I feel refreshed, professionally up-skilled, and my horizons have been widened. I have learnt new analytical, writing and team working skills. I have made new friends, created networks and have a better work-life balance. I have also had a decent time away from my PhD to fully appreciate it for the wonderful opportunity it is! I would definitely recommend linking up with SGS and SGSSS to find out more about internships available to you.

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