Iqra Choudhry, Social Studies of Science, Technology and Medicine, University of Manchester (2017 Cohort)
I applied to the POST Fellowship hoping to get some hands-on policy experience. My PhD focuses on the relationship between science and policy on an international stage, so I was looking forward to an opportunity to see how policy making worked on a national scale, here in the UK.
When I was offered the internship, I was given the option to spend my time at the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST), where I would be working on a POST note over the course of my three months or, working at the House of Lords Library as a Research Assistant instead. One of the reasons I accepted a secondment to the House of Lords Library was because I wanted the chance to work on a range of projects during my time in Westminster.
I began my Fellowship in February 2020. Before my secondment to the House of Lords, I had never been in the Palace of Westminster, and there was something unreal about familiarising myself with a building which wasn’t just my place of work, but also the seat of political power in the UK, and a centuries-old Palace, rich with history.
I loved working as a Research Assistant for the House of Lords Library. The team was incredibly welcoming, and they let me get stuck in right away. Within a week, I was working on several projects, from answering research enquiries about the 2020 UK-Africa Investment Summit and the effects of climate change, to writing pieces for the House of Lords Library website and planning out contributions to the House of Lords Library Magazine. Working to such short deadlines in order to provide timely evidence to policymakers was challenging, but it was also very interesting. No two days were the same and working on a number of projects which had nothing to do with my PhD provided a welcome break from working on the same research question day in, day out.
There are a wealth of opportunities that come along with being a POST Fellow. We were encouraged to attend events in both the Commons and the Lords, and although it was near impossible to get tickets to PMQs during my time in Westminster, I was able to attend the debates in the House of Lords for International Women’s Day 2020, and also took advantage of the opportunity to attend a Select Committee hearing, and an event discussing the challenges faced by Muslim women in the workplace, which was attended by my MP, who pledged to tackle the issues.
I was incredibly glad to have taken advantage of the various opportunities afforded to me during my first month, because the COVID pandemic cut my time in London short. From the first week of March, we were aware of the growing number of cases, and there were daily briefings about the spread of COVID. It felt strange to still be coming into Westminster every day, given that the first known outbreaks were traced back to MPs and their staff.
When the first lockdown was announced, all parliamentary staff were expected to work from home and I was informed that I would be finishing my Fellowship remotely. I decided to move back to Manchester so that I could be with family during lockdown. Although it was frustrating to have such a unique experience cut short by the pandemic, I gained invaluable insight into the way the political process worked in the UK, and the ways in which our Government and Parliament alike responded to an unprecedented global crisis.
Working remotely for the rest of the Fellowship was useful in that it kept me in a routine during the first lockdown, which I appreciated. I was also incredibly lucky to be able to write a policy briefing on Antarctic History and Policy, which is the focus of my PhD research, allowing me to make use of my own specialist knowledge. By the time I left, I had a policy briefing, several online blogs, a couple of magazine articles and a series of research enquiries under my belt.
Ultimately, I enjoyed my POST Fellowship immensely. The experience has opened my eyes to the possibility of leaving academia and working in the world of policy. I would like to thank POST and the House of Lords Library for hosting me, and the NWSSDTP and ESRC for this opportunity.