From PhD to policy – James Wagstaff completes an internship with the HM Courts and Tribunals Service

James WagstaffJames Wagstaff, a PhD student in the LMB’s Structural Studies Division, has completed a three-month policy internship with the HM Courts & Tribunals Service as part of the RCUK Policy Internships Scheme. The scheme, open to PhD students funded by the UK Research Councils (now part of UKRI), provides an opportunity to work in one of twenty-three highly impactful organisations relevant to UK policy, with students producing a briefing paper, participating in a policy enquiry or organising a policy event.

During his internship, James participated in two main projects. The first of these was a data science project which involved using postcodes of court users and publicly available UK-wide data to infer the characteristics of the court user population. The project required James to use and develop the quantitative analysis skills built during his PhD research. Secondly, James worked with the Ministry of Justice’s senior behavioural scientist, applying behavioural science and behavioural insights approaches to improve the quality and quantity of reporting of staff corruption within HM Prisons and Probation Service (HMPPS). James also engaged with stakeholders, both across HMPPS and outside the organisation, in order to understand corruption better and ultimately to implement the findings of his work in the development of a new corruption reporting portal.

James said, “My internship at the HM Courts & Tribunals Service was hugely enjoyable, and I learnt more than I would have thought possible in three months. Experiencing a working environment that is so different threw the relative advantages and disadvantages of a career in academic research into relief in a very dramatic way. Visiting a prison and meeting prisoners and prison staff was an eye-opening experience and something I will never forget. I’m returning to my PhD with a new perspective on my work and my future – this was an immensely valuable experience.”

The Policy Internship Scheme aims to give PhD students an insight into the world of policy and how they and their skill sets can fit into this. Research can make a vital contribution to public policy in a wide range of areas and organisations, from government departments to public bodies. Within parliaments, research-based issues permeate all areas of work but most MPs and Peers do not have a background in research and therefore look to others for specialist advice and information. Linking PhD students, with skills in research and ability to interpret and critically evaluate evidence, to organisations which carry out policy making is thus hugely important.

Further references

RCUK policy internships for MRC students