Hannah Webb, a PhD student in Gerry Crossan’s group in the LMB’s PNAC Division, has recently completed a three-month internship at the Academy of Medical Sciences. Their internship scheme provides students with first-hand experience in the field of medical science policy, working with a range of teams across various policy functions, including both domestic and international policy.
Away from her internship, Hannah’s research at the LMB is focused on understanding how the stability of the sperm genome is maintained during sperm development and how epigenetic marks are removed from the male pronucleus immediately post-fertilisation.
Here, Hannah reflects on her internship experience at the Academy, including how it differed to her normal PhD work, her role in delivering a workshop on artificial intelligence and what surprised her about the placement.
Why did you apply for an internship at the Academy of Medical Sciences?
I decided to apply to broaden my understanding of the UK science ecosystem, and to learn how scientific evidence is used to inform policy decisions. I was also keen to gain experience of science-adjacent careers outside of the lab, and thought the internship would be a fantastic way to gain experience of such a career without committing completely to a full-time role.
What did your internship involve?
The Academy respects and fully utilises its interns from the very start of the internship. I was thrown in at the deep end and spent my first week and a half working on the Academy’s response to a request for input from Sir Patrick Vallance’s “Pro-innovation Regulation of Technologies Review”. I worked directly with the Head of Policy, and we spent several long days drafting a coordinated response with the three other National Academies. Whilst this was an intense introduction to the policy world, it was an incredibly educational experience, and I certainly felt completely immersed in the policy space after submitting our work.
Along with several smaller tasks, one of my main projects at the Academy was supporting the organisation and running of a workshop entitled, “Accelerating safe and effective adoption of artificial intelligence in the healthcare system: learning by doing”. The goal of the workshop was to bring together experts involved in the adoption of AI in healthcare from across academia, industry, clinical settings, regulatory bodies, and the government, to have a solutions-focused discussion on how best to enable and support the adoption of AI-based tools in healthcare settings. I had various tasks throughout the project, including literature review, participant scoping, briefing and resource preparation, and event coordination. I learnt so much throughout the organisation process, and the final event was absolutely fascinating.
How did your work at the Academy of Medical Sciences differ to your usual work at the LMB?
My work at the LMB is entirely lab-based, and I spend the vast majority of my time at the bench. This internship was my first experience of an office-based role, and also my first experience of a job outside of experimental research. It certainly took some time to get into a routine of work that was not punctuated by bursts of movement to different areas of the lab.
Were there any areas of overlap with your usual work at LMB?
Whilst I obviously didn’t use any technical or experimental skills during the internship, I was surprised to realise just how many transferrable skills I’ve developed during my PhD that came in handy during my work – the most useful of these being the ability to digest and comprehend large volumes of information from multiple sources, and concisely summarise these in an understandable way.
One of the key skills that I improved during the internship was the ability to write effectively and convincingly. I expect this will be very valuable when I eventually come to write my thesis and apply for jobs post-PhD.
Did you learn anything that surprised you?
As a PhD student, it is very easy to engross yourself in your work to the point that you lose perspective of anything beyond solving the minute problems that arise in your specific niche. As such, I think that my most valuable takeaway from the internship will be having had the ability to view the scientific research ecosystem from an entirely different position. The Academy of Medical Sciences interacts with academia, industry, regulatory bodies, research and funding councils, and the government. Learning how all these groups interact to support research and translate this into outcomes that produce innovations or inform policy, was truly illuminating and has transformed the way I think about my role within this network.
Has completing this internship shaped or changed your career plans in any way?
Whilst I enjoy wet-lab research, it has been valuable for me to realise that I don’t need to be at the bench in order to spend the majority of my time engaging with, and thinking about, science more broadly. I could definitely see myself working in a role with a policy element to it in the future, as I’ve witnessed first-hand just how impactful good work in this area has the potential to be.
What advice would you give to other PhD students considering applying to an internship with the Academy of Medical Sciences?
I would say: go for it! As PhD students, we are in a unique position where it is our job to learn and train. Regardless of whether you are interested in a policy career or a lab-based career, it is extremely valuable to know how science informs policy if you want to ensure that your research has the most wide-reaching and beneficial impact possible. If you are uncertain about whether you’d enjoy the day-to-day, I highly recommend getting in touch with the Academy directly – they will be happy to answer any questions you may have or give additional details.
Applications for The Academy of Medical Science’s MRC internship programme are now open and close on Monday 24th April 2023.