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Aikaterini Mniestri

February 14th, 2024

Guest blog: Paving the road from the PhD to policymaking with LSE SPRING

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Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Aikaterini Mniestri

February 14th, 2024

Guest blog: Paving the road from the PhD to policymaking with LSE SPRING

0 comments

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

In this student guest blog, PhD candidate Aikaterini Mniestri recounts her experience at the 2023 LSE SPRING Away Day at The Conduit.

A look into the SPRING Away Day

The LSE SPRING Away Day brought together 14 PhD students from diverse departments for an immersive exploration of career transitions into the vibrant area of policymaking.

The day commenced with a warm welcome and a hearty breakfast which created a hospitable atmosphere for the attendees. With our plates and coffee mugs full, we casually got acquainted with one another and the organisers. Our more casual gathering turned into an ice-breaker session, where we were introduced to each other’s departmental affiliation and professional background. As it turned out, attendees came from a diverse range of departments including Geography and Environment, Sociology, Methodology, International Relations, Accounting, Media and Communications, the Centre for Economic Performance, Psychological and Behavioural Science, and the European Institute. United under the banner of the Away Day, we all waited to see aspects of our research reflected in the following panel discussion.

From the PhD to policymaking

Veritably the heart of the event, the panel discussion ‘Careers of PhD Graduates in Policymaking’ did not disappoint. It had the audience fervently taking notes, as professionals from different branches of policymaking elaborated on their own transitions from academic study to policymaking. Dr Marie Julie Chenard, Dr Stephanie De Mel, Dr Philipp Dreyer, and Dr Curtis Horne delved into the nuances of policymaking, highlighting the differences and similarities with academia, the transferability of PhD skills, and practical advice for those considering a similar trajectory. For instance, we were advised to consider how to formulate an industry relevant CV. In this context, academic achievements such as the organisation of a conference or the publication of a book chapter can be translated into leadership skills and a strong work ethic.

Thinking outside the box

The afternoon was marked by a hands-on hackathon led by Dr Curtis Horne, the Lead Data Scientist at Westminster City Council (WCC). This session encouraged participants to apply their analytical prowess to real-world policy challenges, focusing on understanding Westminster’s high street activity profile. The diverse backgrounds of the PhD students, coupled with Dr Horne’s expertise, gave rise to a series of ideas. In my own group, we challenged each other to see through the eyes of the residents and proposed a solution that would build on existing initiatives organised by the community.

Then, Catherine Reynolds, our resident Careers Consultant, took the stage in the ‘PhD skills in policy settings’ session. Assembling participants into new groups, she asked us to conduct a thought experiment to personify the role of the academic versus the role of the policymaker. This interactive exercise led to a thoughtful reflection on the skills developed during a PhD and their applicability to roles in policy settings.

Opportunities to affect change

This groupwork gave way to the WCC Urban Lab Internships presentation and one-to-one discussions where Dr Stephanie De Mel, Senior Economist and Head of the Urban Lab at WCC, provided insights into the council’s key issues, policy priorities, and opportunities for engagement. The session ended on a more personal note, with one-to-one discussions about micro-internships. These short-residency programmes are offered to PhD students curious to take on a policy challenge for about six weeks.

The Away Day concluded with a drinks session where networking and informal conversation flowed into one another among the participants, speakers, and professionals in attendance.

Final thoughts

To summarise my thoughts, the LSE SPRING Away Day lingers on my mind as a formative experience in my trajectory as an early career scholar. The dynamic interplay of panel discussions, hands-on activities, and insightful sessions satisfied our curiosity and armed us with a deeper understanding of professional opportunities and challenges to be met outside of the university grounds.

The event created a meaningful opportunity for PhD students like me to step out of our day-to-day routines and responsibilities to peek behind the curtain of policymaking.

The success of the event is a testament to the hard work and dedication of organisers Catherine Reynolds and Maria Christina Vogkli. Their meticulous planning ensured that the day would flow smoothly and their extensive experience with the PhD programmes at LSE ensured that, regardless of discipline, we were all engaged throughout the event.

Find out more about the SPRING programme:

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About the author

Aikaterini Mniestri

PhD Researcher, Department of Media and Communications

Posted In: Careers Advice | Careers skill | LSE Careers | PhD | PhD: Beyond academia | Public policy

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