Government Science – a PhD placements perspective: Katie St. John Glew

Katie St. John Glew is a PhD student at the National Oceanography Centre and University of Southampton.

I am a marine ecology PhD student from the University of Southampton and have been working in Professor Ian Boyd’s office at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) for the past 3 months, learning about the broad range of areas Defra covers, how science influences policy and exploring the potential future career paths open to me.

During my placement I have been involved in numerous projects. I have met so many interesting and inspiring people and have learnt about the vast range of environmental challenges and scientific solutions Defra deals with every day such as land management, food fraud and security, flooding, value of the natural environment, earth observations and air quality. I have also been lucky enough to accompany Professor Boyd on several visits: at Cefas (Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science), I learnt how shellfish toxins are monitored to keep our food safe, at APHA (Animal and Plant Health Agency) I learnt how diseases are studied to protect our livestock, and at Redhill landfill site I learnt how science and innovation has powered renewable energy production. Throughout my placement I have noticed just how much science and evidence underpins everything Defra does.

The goal of my PhD research is to develop a method of determining foraging areas of marine animals using naturally occurring chemicals (isotopes). Isotopes can act as a natural tracker to tell us where an animal has been feeding. This has useful implications for conservation, designation of marine protected areas and verifying fisheries landing locations, and hopefully one day will be used in policy decisions.

At this time I am still unable to answer the recurring question, “What do you want to do after your PhD?”. I enjoy the field and lab work, data analysis, and independence of research and academia, but the evidence gathering and direct influence on real world policy decisions draws me to policy and government science.

I have a new found appreciation of the fact that academics, government scientists, evidence specialists and policy makers are all working towards the same goals: to better understand our planet and work out a way of living our lives to the full, yet sustainably. Through my time at Defra I have come to realise that this task is too great to be tackled by one group alone, and that only by working together and understanding each others languages will we ever be able to achieve these goals.

I do know that whichever path, or combination of paths, I choose, through my experience in both academia and now government evidence and policy, I will be better equipped to make sure that whatever small part I do play, will actively contribute to these shared goals.

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