PhD Internships – Learning by doing

In January 2021, the Wales Centre for Public Policy welcomed two doctoral students on three-month ESRC funded internships. Aimee Morse from the University of Gloucestershire studied a local evidence ecosystem – a case-study of a farmer group in North Wales, and Findlay Smith from Aberystwyth University worked with us to study the Welsh Government’s use of policy tools for mainstreaming equalities.

Below, they tell us what they thought of their time with the Centre, and what they’ll take from it to further their future professional development.


1. Overall, how have you found your time at the Centre?

Aimee – I’ve had three fantastic months working with the Centre. Though it has been strange not to meet colleagues face to face or set foot in an office during this time, frequent meetings with all team members have made the virtual experience well worthwhile! It’s been really interesting to learn more about the work of the Centre and how they support policy making and public service delivery across Wales. I’m grateful for the support of Dr Hannah Durrant and the wider research team; their guidance and constructive feedback have been invaluable.

Findlay – I have enjoyed my time working with the Centre. I wasn’t sure if remote working would be a challenge, but there is a really good set up with regular meetings and updates, so I didn’t ever feel like I was working on my own. The support from staff has also been great, especially my supervisor Dr Andrew Connell. I felt like part of the team from the outset and have enjoyed hearing about the work of the other staff too.


2. What have you been able to do/ get involved in through your internship that you wouldn’t have been able to do without it?

Aimee – The research I carried out during my time at the Centre gave me an opportunity to work with a farmer group in north Wales, applying skills I had developed during my work with farmer groups in England, to understand how the different national contexts affected their collaborative work. I have already learned a lot about the group’s work, their goals, and their contribution to our knowledge of sustainable land management practices in upland areas, but I hope to travel to meet them in-person and thank them for their participation in my project once I’m able.

I’d also never thought about creating a podcast until I arrived at the centre and discussed project outputs. I contributed to the WCPP’s PEP talk series, discussing the Rural Wales Vision with Professor Michael Woods, co-director of the Centre for Welsh Politics and Society and the Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research, Data and Methods (WISERD), and Guto Davies, a farmer in north Wales. It was a fantastic experience!

Findlay – The internship has given me a chance to produce work that will hopefully be relevant and useful for policymakers. Working with the Centre has also allowed me to engage more directly with policymakers during data collection. I have been able to interview senior staff within government, which I would not have been able to do otherwise.


3. How do you think your time at the Centre has supported your PhD studies?

Aimee – The internship has been an opportunity to develop my thinking for my PhD more generally, and I now have more of an appreciation of the policy making process and associated literatures. My findings from this project will feed into a comparative study of the experiences of English and Welsh farmer groups during a time of significant policy change.

Findlay – There is a great deal of cross-over between my PhD topic and my work at the Centre, with all my work here contributing to some degree to my research. The time spent working on something other than my PhD has also given me scope to look back at the work I have done to date and identify areas for improvement.


4. How do you think your time at the Centre has supported your wider professional development?

Aimee – Working with the Centre’s Research Team allowed me to think about how I might apply my current competencies in a new team. I feel more confident in planning and delivering on short-term projects and in sharing my work with a wider audience. I’ve had time to develop several key skills during my internship and I’m looking forward to applying them as I continue my PhD research.

Findlay I have particularly enjoyed that the internship has focused on generating practical outputs relevant to policymakers. This has given me a focus beyond an academic setting and has definitely helped my development as a researcher.


Professor James Downe, the WCPP’s Director of Research said – “The Centre’s PhD Internship programme aims at providing an opportunity for students to gain practical experience of undertaking research in an organisation that works at the interface of research and policymaking. Aimee and Findlay have made an excellent contribution to the Centre during the last few months and have gained practical skills to apply in their future work. We will be advertising for further PhD internships soon and look forward to working with students in developing their skills in providing evidence for policy.”