Senior International Policy Adviser at The British Academy
PhD Medieval History, 2019
Please tell us a bit about your current role.
I am currently Senior International Policy Adviser at the British Academy. I joined the Academy in June 2019 as an International Policy Advisor, following my PhD at the University of Birmingham.
I became Senior International Policy Advisor in November 2021. The British Academy is the UK’s national body for the humanities and social sciences. Our purpose is to deepen understanding of people, societies, and cultures, enabling everyone to learn, progress and prosper.
We have three principal roles:
- A Fellowship of distinguished scholars from all areas of the humanities and social sciences, elected by their peers, that facilitates the exchange of knowledge and ideas and promotes the work of our subjects.
- A Funding Body that supports the best ideas, individuals and intellectual resources in the humanities and social sciences, nationally and internationally.
- A Forum for debate and engagement that stimulates public interest and deepens understanding, that enhances global leadership and policy making, and that acts as a voice for the humanities and social science.
The British Academy’s International team, within the Research Directorate, promotes and supports international collaboration and mobility, develops, and maintains links with sister academies, international organisations, and other partners overseas, and leverages the expertise of Fellows and award-holders to further the Academy’s reach, impact and influence internationally.
I take a lead role in the preparation of policy reports, briefings, consultation responses, statements, and speeches. I work with academics (fellows and award holders) and external stakeholders (other academies, research councils, government, and civil society), and represent the Academy at appropriate meetings and events.
The recruitment process involved a cover letter, CV, a short writing task, and a panel interview. The interview questions were competency based, asking for examples of experience working with a range of stakeholders, creating policy impact, organising events, and managing budgets.
What motivated you to do your postgraduate taught course/research course?
I decided to undertake the PhD following an MA in Medieval Studies. I was lucky to be awarded AHRC funding. I had just really enjoyed the research process of my MA and wanted to continue my studies at PhD level.
What do you enjoy most and what do you find challenging about your role?
I enjoy the opportunity to immerse myself in different topics across our areas of thematic focus, though this can be challenging. For instance, I led on a range of work connected to COP26; curating thematic special issues of the Journal of the British Academy, organising policy briefings, disseminating our award holders work and collaborating with external stakeholders on public-facing events. This meant learning about research on just transitions, nature-based solutions, climate adaptation and mitigation etc.: quite different areas from my PhD research which was on Cistercian monasticism in the twelfth century.
Have you faced any barriers during your career journey, if so, how did you overcome them?
The move from academic research to policy work involved an adjustment in mindset, as did writing as ‘the Academy’ rather than myself. I’ve benefited from working with great colleagues who have helped me to understand the role, and the position of the Academy more generally, which has really helped this transition.
How did your time at Birmingham help you prepare for this role?
The research and writing skills I acquired throughout my PhD, the experience writing and presenting to different audiences, organising conferences, and opportunity to lead seminars and work in university administration have all proved useful in my job.
I attended Careers Network workshops on developing CVs and cover letters, as well as talks given by external speakers on their post-PhD journeys.
As I applied for post-PhD jobs, I spoke with the PGR Careers Adviser (Holly) about possible interview questions for the roles I was interested in and practised possible answers. This helped me to think about how best to frame my experiences for an employer and relate my skills to the job description.
What are your career plans for the future?
Unsure so far!
What advice would you give to students interested in further study?
I would encourage anyone interested in a PhD to speak to potential supervisors as soon as possible, and to attend any advice sessions given by the funders. If possible, speak to current PhD students in the department you are interested in and ask about their experience.
Consider why you want to do a PhD, and what sort of jobs you would be interested in after- especially if outside of academia. Is a PhD necessary for the jobs you are looking for? Would you want to finish your PhD even if it has no relation to your future career?
What advice would you give to postgraduate researchers interested in getting into your industry or role?
I would generally advise to consider a wide range of jobs; a PhD will have prepared you for all sorts of things you won’t have considered. Look at a range of job descriptions and think about how your experiences from the PhD will enable you to meet the required criteria.
For a policy-related role like mine, I'd advise to read policy briefings and explore the ways in which research can inform evidence-based policy. Take advantage of the opportunities beyond writing your thesis; for example, experience organising conferences has proved particularly useful in my current role.