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Student stories - working at the Scottish Government

20 August 2015

PhD student Neil Kirk is just back from a prestigious three-month internship at the Scottish Government after successfully applying for a position advertised by the Scottish Graduate School of Social Science (SGS).

The SGS is a collaboration between universities in Scotland to make outstanding research training available to doctoral students in the social sciences.

There are a number of internships and placement opportunities available throughout the year, and their aim is to equip postgraduate students with a range of new and transferable skills that enable them to apply for jobs in a variety of sectors upon graduation.

Here, Neil tells us about his experience, the project he worked on, and what he learned from his involvement in the scheme.

Where was your placement and what made you apply for it?

“My placement was with the Population Health team at the Scottish Government, which is part of the Health Analytical Services Division, based in St Andrews House in Edinburgh.

“I heard about it after seeing a post on the Abertay Graduate School Facebook page, and I applied because it sounded like a really interesting opportunity to experience a different application of research skills.”

What was the project?

“The project I was involved with was related to the awareness and use of e-cigarettes in adolescents which interested me as it's a fairly new and contentious issue.

“The Scottish Graduate School for Social Sciences, which runs the internship programme, provided a stipend and covered the accommodation costs to allow me to move to Edinburgh for the three-month duration of the project, so that made the transition from the PhD to the internship a seamless one.”

What did your work involve?

“My internship involved working with a large-scale data set related to e-cigarette usage amongst young people in Scotland. I had to analyse the data and produce a report based on the findings, as well as present this work to various groups within the Government. Ultimately, the work I was involved with may help shape future policy in public health.

“I was in a team of about 10 people, made up of researchers, statisticians and economists – plus one other intern who was working on a different project.

“On a day to day basis, I worked quite closely with my internship manager on this specific project, but I was made to feel like a valid member of the team overall and was able to call upon the assistance and expertise of other members of the team when required.

“There were also several opportunities to meet other interns working in different areas of Government and who were based in other parts of Edinburgh and Glasgow.”

You've been studying for your PhD with us – how did this placement relate to that?

“The internship projects don't require you to have any prior experience in that area and encourage you to do something outwith your field, so it was unconnected to the topic of my PhD – which is in the field of psychology and is investigating whether people who speak Scots store it like a separate language in their brains.

“I use a variety of experimental tasks to collect data for this, which is very different from the type of data I was working with on the internship!

“However, my PhD has equipped me with a set of transferable research skills which I was able to bring to the project.”

What was most useful about the placement?

“It opened my eyes to a whole new area outside of academia where my research skills could be put to practical use. I've been keeping my options open as to what kind of jobs I would be suited for, either in academia or outwith it.

“I hadn't previously considered the civil service, so the internship was a really useful way to see firsthand the role that researchers have in Government.

What was most enjoyable about it?

“What surprised me most about working in the Government is that you are encouraged to move around departments every few years and don't need to have a background in that specific area.

“But the thing that was most enjoyable about it was seeing the potential impact that the work I was conducting could have on future Government policy.”

Would you recommend other postgraduate students apply for similar internships?

“Yes, definitely. It's a great opportunity to see life outside of academia and an excellent way to gain some new, different experiences.”

To find out more about the Scottish Graduate School of Social Science please visit the SGS website. The closing date for the next round of applications is 5pm on Monday 19 October.

To find out more about postgraduate study at Abertay, please visit the Graduate School webpages.

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