My 6-month ESRC Funded Internship with Cadw (as a Parent of Two Young Children in the Middle of Wales) By Kirsty Usher

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WGSSSĀ studentĀ Kirsty UsherĀ writes about her 6-month part-time placement at Cadw.

I am writing this with the hope to encourage anyone who, like I was, not sure if the ESRC funded internship is for them. My situation is that I am a mature student and mother to two young children. I also live in Aberystwyth which is quite literally at the end of the line if you come by train. Your situation may differ, but what you might recognise to be similar, is that you have outside responsibilities or a locality which you feel might inhibit you from taking advantage of this opportunity.

The internship I went for was a project unrelated to my own PhD research, but it was an existing academic interest of mine. I also recognised how it might benefit my own research with a new perspective, as there were some overlaps. It was for the Welsh Government, with Cadw, working on a literature review of wellbeing and the historic environment in the UK. I was excited to explore my other interests in this way and was delighted to have been granted the opportunity to do it.

The Reality

Because of the new approaches to remote working in the employment sector, resulting from the many adaptations required after the advent of Covid 19, I knew this could benefit my needs as mother of a toddler and limited childcare options. In the application process I made it very clear of what my limitations were with my situation, this was fairly and sympathetically acknowledged and did not hinder the process. Of course this was only one aspect of it and I did not linger, ensuring I highlighted my strengths and capabilities overall.

But I would state again, itā€™s important to be clear about what is realistically possible for you. I would have loved the opportunity to regularly travel down to Cardiff for meetings and such, but the reality was I had to, and wanted to more importantly, remain in Aberystwyth for school runs and looking after my toddler. Not to say that I couldnā€™t adapt childcare arrangements, which I did with my partner. I also negotiated with my university to switch to part time for the 6-month duration of the internship. This meant I could give a clear set of available working hours for the internship, whilst giving myself a manageable workload and that all important work-life balance. Because despite having been full time for the PhD, my existing routine included evening work, and I understood governmental work contracts expected you to work within certain time frames.

The Practicalities

Aberystwyth has its own Welsh Government offices, so I was able to agree with my supervisors to attend the office once a week, or as often as I could manage. This was how I met with my supervisors who made the effort to travel from two ends of Wales to meet and welcome me. I think I was very lucky to have had two very lovely and incredibly professional, generous women. They regarded me with intelligence and respect, it gave me confidence where I was understandably nervous and unsure of what their expectations were of me.

The project itself began to evolve through weekly consultation with my supervisors. It began as a literature review, basically not trying to reinvent the wheel but to gather all existing data around the UK and apply it to Wales. But as my own research developed into the area and my supervisors suggested other staff within Cadw to meet with and discuss their roles and how the wellbeing agenda came into them, the project began to develop into more of a qualitative research-based approach. Largely led by interviews, I began to compile a list of wellbeing projects in Wales, of which it turns out there are many. I was able to sit in on a meeting between all five historic preservation organisations in the UK and Ireland. I interviewed professionals from Public Health Wales and the National Academy for Social Prescribing. It was a wealth of discovery and my only regret is I didnā€™t have longer to spend on the project. Also most of this I was able to do from home.

The Benefits

Going part time with the internship, and doing something so completely fresh and different, gave me a much-needed breather from my own PhD project. I had been struggling with that old familiar spectre of imposter syndrome, and this experience quite honestly absolved me of that. The opportunity to interview professionals and specialists in their working environment and to successfully interact with them, reminded me of my own capabilities.

The experience as a whole gave me confidence in myself, the interactions with others I think was key. Even though most of it was online, it still counted and was invaluable. The insight into this particular sector was fascinating, to better understand the machinations, but also the people behind an organisation such as Cadw.

This was a hugely beneficial experience which has left me refreshed and optimistic about the future. In terms of other types of career prospects outside of academia and raring to go with my own research. And most importantly, I now have a working knowledge of these ideas, as opposed to just academic, and how they are being applied in the policy driven world of government

My internship at Welsh Parliamentā€™s Senedd Research – Isabel Lang

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WGSSS student Isabel Lang writes about her three-month placement in the Children, Young People and Education research team within Senedd Research

I have always valued internships and their importance in offering opportunities to network, build confidence and resilience, and learn new skills

My passion for research began during my undergraduate degree in Social Science at Cardiff University, where I learned how research can be used to better understand people and to make a positive difference in society. My particular interest in social research led me to apply for a masters in Social Science Research Methods (Social Policy) at Cardiff University

After securing funding for four further years of study from the WGSSS through their 1+3 studentship, my masters was followed by a PhD, which I am now in the second year of. It explores university studentsā€™ views on student wellbeing and university culture using multi methods, and is based within the School of Social Sciences at Cardiff University and affiliated with DECIPHer.

I have always valued internships and their importance in offering opportunities to network, build confidence and resilience, and learn new skills. I am very grateful that theĀ WGSSS studentshipĀ supports students to take time out of their PhD to undertake an internship that is relevant to their research, with their PhD funding and submission date extended for the equivalent time of their internship.

An ideal opportunity

I was excited to see the three-month UKRI policy internships advertised as they combined my interest in research and policy, which was sparked by a ā€˜Research Applicationsā€™ module I undertook in my masterā€™s degree, where I learnt in more depth about how research contributes towards policy development and evaluation, and how research can have a positive impact on peopleā€™s lives.

The UKRI policy internships offered around 125 placements at 25 host partners of different influential policy organisations, which gave the opportunity to have a first-hand insight into how policies were developed across the UK, and the role of research in this process.

The internship application process included writing a short policy brief, which I chose to write on social prescribing because I am interested in the topic, it relates to my PhD research, and was often being discussed in Welsh Parliament at the time, with university researchers providing evidence on the topic in the Senedd, highlighting its relevance and importance.

Interview timeā€¦

After applying I was invited to an online panel interview to assess my appropriate skills and knowledge required to carry out a Parliamentary internship. I prepared by reading different resources about the four UK parliaments and the function of certain offices within them, looking particularly at recent work undertaken on wellbeing and education and how this related to my own experiences, knowledge, and research.

The panel included three interviewers who worked in different parliamentary settings across the UK and they were all really nice and friendly. A lot of the interview questions related to topics similar to those that I had studied in my masterā€™s degree, such as different types of evidence and research impact.

Part of the team

When I received an offer to undertake the internship, I felt surprised and excited. I was pleased that I was chosen to undertake the internship at Senedd Research due to my interest in Welsh policy and research, with my PhD focusing on a Welsh context and also being a student in Cardiff.

In Senedd Research I was placed within the Children, Young People, and Education (CYPE) research team, which I was immediately welcomed into, and felt that everyone was really friendly and supportive. I was pleased about joining this team because the areas they cover align well with the topic of my PhD research.

Although the main area I would focus on for my internship would be on CYPE topics, there was flexibility if I wanted to get involved in other research topics and with other teams too

The CYPE research team is made up of four researchers who do a wide range of work on different topics relating to children, young people, and education, from childcare to university services. For example, the researchers write briefings on different topics, summarising evidence in an accurate and impartial way, for CYPE committee members to use in committee meetings.

The CYPE committee is made up of six members from different parties represented in the Senedd, who look at policy and legislation and hold the Welsh Government to account in areas relating to children, young people, and education, as well as health, care services, and social care relating to children and young people.

There are other Senedd committees and research teams which focus on other topics, such as transport or the economy, which often overlap with the areas that the CYPE research team and committee cover, such as education funding or transport for apprentices, and therefore researchers sometimes work across different committees. Although the main area I would focus on for my internship would be on CYPE topics, there was flexibility if I wanted to get involved in other research topics and with other teams too.

A varied workload

The internship was organised as a flexible 37.5 hour working week. There was no expectation to come into the office every day, especially as I was living in Bristol, so I decided to commute into the office every day for the first week which was filled with induction activities and meetings, and then usually one day a week for committee meetings for the remainder of the internship. I liked that the internship gave a mixture of working from home and going into the office, to experience the benefits of both.

Despite working from home most of the time my team remained very much in contact, with online meetings daily to catch up and check in. This was really helpful in learning what the other researchers were working on and meant that I always felt very supported.

Throughout the internship, my main tasks included:

  • Writing responses to enquiries from Senedd members or from their research support staff, which included a range of questions relating to children, young people and education where members expected an impartial, evidence-informed response from a relevant researcher.
  • Writing a briefing for the CYPE committeesā€™ scrutiny of a private members bill on outdoor education, and also helping to write a briefing for the Economy Trade and Rural Affairs (ETRA) committeesā€™ scrutiny of the Minister for Economy. I also wrote a briefing for the petitions committee meeting on a petition on childcare entitlement in Wales created by a member of the public which received many votes from the public to be discussed in the Senedd. This briefing was published online and provided background information on childcare entitlement and an overview of the petition.

It was interesting to see how different people gave evidence, from university professors to government officials

  • Writing an article and a constituent factsheet on childcare entitlement in Wales and England.
  • Sending a weekly email to the CYPE research team, including relevant recent and upcoming Senedd events, and talking through this in weekly meetings.
  • Attending weekly CYPE committee meetings on ā€˜access to education and childcare for disabled children and young peopleā€™, which was the main enquiry topic the CYPE committee was looking into at the time of my internship. This involved different stakeholders, including members of the public (e.g. young people or parents), teachers, support staff, university researchers, professionals/experts/staff in different relevant organisations, all providing evidence and their opinion on this topic to the CYPE committee. This meant that I was able to observe various CYPE committee meetings covering different topics relating to the enquiry. It was interesting to see how different people gave evidence, from university professors to government officials.
  • Attending weekly CYPE internal team meetings involving the clerk, deputy clerk, legal advisors, researchers, and citizen engagement manager, to discuss recent and upcoming work of the CYPE committee and research team, and relevant information and events.
  • Attending a workshop for all the Senedd researchers where we received a talk from a BBC Wales news correspondent about their role, which was very informative and insightful on what a research career in the BBC might entail.

Overall, it was nice to have the opportunity to get involved in different things and produce different pieces of work, and I found it interesting to explore topics that I hadnā€™t researched in-depth before, such as childcare entitlement. I also enjoyed practising different writing styles to what I had been using in academia, as Senedd articles summarise information very concisely and are written in a style that is easy to read and accessible to a lay person.

What did I learn?

This internship has taught me about the importance of evidence being presented concisely and accessibly, and how evidence is used to shape and scrutinise policy. Also, the importance of collaboration between different groups of people (e.g. the public, researchers, and staff in third sector organisations) to develop evidence that can be used to improve policy and practice. This knowledge is invaluable for my PhD and beyond, and will influence how I collect data and present the findings of my own research.

It was really nice and reassuring to share the internship experience with others in similar positions and hear about what they had been up to working on different topics

Highlights from the internship include becoming a part of a lovely and inspiring team, getting to know Senedd researchers and what their roles were, and observing public and private committee meetings. Also, getting to know two other PhD student interns from different subject areas and universities, who were placed in different Senedd research teams. It was really nice and reassuring to share the internship experience with others in similar positions and hear about what they had been up to working on different topics.

My future plans include maintaining the networks I formed in this internship throughout my PhD research and beyond, and aiming to utilise my PhD findings in some way such as informing the public and future policy and practice. Also, to hopefully undertake another internship to gain more experience and network with other students and professionals.

I would definitely recommend other students, particularly those interested in similar topics, to apply for internships such as the UKRI policy internships scheme.

Small Grants Report – Katharine Kavanagh

Katharine Kavanagh is in the final year of her PhD in the School of English, Communication and Philosophy at Cardiff University. She is funded through the DTPā€™s Linguistics pathway, and researches how the different ways that UK circus audiences value their experience are represented through public texts. In this blog she describes how she successfully applied for a WGSSS Small Grant and offers four top tips to future applicants.

After a year of maternity leave, and a summer of working from home, I eagerly entered my Schoolā€™s cafĆ© at the start of the 2022 academic year for a PGR meetā€™nā€™greet to catch up with old colleagues and meet new ones. Iā€™m a Linguistics student, but our school also houses departments of English Literature, Creative Writing, and Philosophy. Before too long I found myself chatting with a Philosophy student just entering his second year. Thom Hamerā€™s study area is metamodernism, a relatively recent movement in cultural understanding, but one that I have encountered before in my own studies of circus culture. He mentioned having run a symposium last year funded by his DTP (the AHRC SWWDTP), and the cogs in my brain started clickingā€¦

In May 2023, we proudly produced The Metamodern Circus ā€“ the worldā€™s first symposium dedicated to the intersections of circus practice and metamodern theory. The path to get there was long and at times stressful, but we were facilitated in our journey with funding from Thomā€™s DTP, the Cardiff University Doctoral Academy, and the ESRC Wales DTP (now rebranded as the Welsh Graduate School for the Social Sciences, or WGSSS).

In this blog I want to sing the praises of the WGSSS Small Project Grants funding stream, and share my experiences of applying for and managing the funds, in the hope that it will help other students to benefit from the scheme.

The fund is open to applicants twice a year, and can provide up to Ā£1000 to successful candidates to support one of three project types as described on the WGSSS website: Cohort building, Interdisciplinarity or Collaborative.

The total budget of our symposium day was a far higher sum than can be accommodated by the Small Grants scheme, but this was largely covered by the AHRC funds Thom was able to access. In addition to the symposium day itself, however, it was important to us to properly prepare attendees in advance of the event, and then to share the findings with a wider audience of stakeholders afterwards. To do this, we wanted to distribute an introductory zine that could lay down some basics of metamodernism and circus studies to those who were unfamiliar with either or both fields, and then to produce a documentation booklet after the event that could be sent to higher education circus schools so that our knowledge could be disseminated to practitioners who were unable to attend in person. 

My first big tip for readers planning an ambitious event: Combine budget pots! Figure out which bits of your project meet the brief for different funding streams, and separate out the costs accordingly into tailored applications. When we completed our WGSSS application we listed all the costs to run the full project and advised that we had also sourced some of the funds from elsewhere. At the time of application weā€™d had verbal confirmation from one of the other sources and were awaiting a decision on the other, so additional funds do not have to be fully confirmed in order to achieve a successful outcome for a Small Grant.

My second big tip: Make careful spreadsheets of where the money is allocated and actually spent. Even in a smaller scale project than ours, some planned expenditure will go up, and some will (hopefully!) go down. If you are accessing different funding pots, you need to know where there is room for manoeuvre between them and where there isnā€™t. For example, do certain expenses have to be paid by an earlier deadline than others, as in our case? One of the great benefits to us of the WGSSS scheme was that there was no requirement to complete the activity before the financial year end. Funds do however need to be used within a 12 months period and the finish date of the project should take this into account.  The WGSSS office can be contacted for advice if any difficulties with anticipated timescales arise.   Beyond ensuring the success of this project, the experience of budget management gained from our Small Grant has helped build skills and confidence that will support future work opportunities after graduation.

My third tip: Be prepared for your ideas to shift in line with the requirements of your funding options. Many of our best ideas came to us by seeing what constraints we had to conform to in order to secure the funding. Although it takes more work to reimagine a project based on external considerations, I think this creative adaptation helped strengthen our funding applications to ensure we were meeting all the requirements, and also helped strengthen our final offering because of the additional work that had to go into the planning. For example, we had to ensure that we were offering an activity that could benefit all ESRC funded PGRs across the DTP, and so we devised a workshop to introduce principles of collaborative writing and publication processes that would draw students from many disciplines to our niche day on circus and metamodernism. This meant we had perspectives from schools of Optometry, Engineering and Law, for example, which enriched our discussions and learning on the day. We also had to make the day available online, which taught us valuable skills in producing hybrid events. In fact, the very process of writing and honing our applications made a massive improvement to our understanding of the project and how it could be of maximum benefit to our own interests and to those of our participants and audiences. We also became experts at articulating ideas in writing that had previously only existed in spoken exchanges between us.

The application for the WGSSS funding was the simplest of the three that we wrote. The link to the form is available through the Small Grants webpage, and clarifies at the bottom where the completed form must be emailed. The first section of the form asks for standard personal details relating to your PhD programme and which funding stream youā€™re applying for. The second part asks for a 500-word description of the proposed activities, including timescales, how the activities will be organised and by whom, and how these will benefit you (and other students) and enhance your PhD project. The last part gives a budget table to fill out with estimates of the various costs anticipated. There isnā€™t room within this blog to include our final application, but if anyone would like to see a copy then get in touch and I will happily share via email.

My last tip for the application is that it requires your PhD Supervisorā€™s signature, so you need to factor time to discuss your idea with them into your planning, as well as to allow reasonable time before the deadline to receive their signature back on the completed form. (An e-signature is fine). At the time of writing this, the next deadline for the Small Grants funding is 15th December 2023, so if you have had ideas percolating in your brain but werenā€™t sure how to make them happen, then perhaps a WGSSS Small Grant could be your solution! Payments for successful project expenses are initially arranged through your own schoolā€™s finance department. The DTP will reimburse costs incurred at the end of the project once a final report and breakdown of expenditure has been submitted. Learning how to navigate University financial procedures was an unexpected and revelatory learning outcome of the project!

If youā€™re interested in further details of how our event ran, or would like to see a digital copy of the zine and publication that were produced, please visit TheCircusDiaries.com, an online platform that partnered with us for the event in celebration of their 10th anniversary.

And, finally, good luck to all future applicants!

Ā£18.5 million award success for the Welsh Graduate School for the Social Sciences

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The Welsh Graduate School for the Social Sciences (WGSSS) is one of 15 new doctoral training partnerships announced by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) following a successful bid for funding.

The investment in doctoral training partnerships (DTPs) demonstrate ESRCā€™s commitment to its revised vision for doctoral training, that reflects the findings of the Review of PhD in the Social Sciences in 2021. They will provide a breadth of professional development training opportunities to enhance the capabilities of doctoral candidates and further develop a world-class, highly skilled workforce for the UK.

WGSSS is a watershed for the social sciences in Wales. Building on the success of the ESRC Wales DTP, we are strengthened by new university members, a powerful group of strategic partners, and a deep commitment from stakeholders. WGSSS will nurture social science researchers from all backgrounds, delivering outstanding training and practical preparation for a wide range of careers, within impact to communities in Wales and around the world.

Professor John Harrington, WGSSS Director

WGSSS is a collaboration between Cardiff University, andā€ÆAberystwyth University,ā€ÆBangor University,ā€ÆCardiff Metropolitan University, the University of South Wales, theā€ÆUniversity of Gloucestershire, andā€ÆSwansea University. The University of Wales, Trinity St David is an associate member and contributes to shared training and researcher development.   

A total of Ā£40 million investment in postgraduate social science research and training, WGSSS will deliver up to 360 studentships across 5 annual cohorts from 2024. It will create an integrated cross-Wales community of researchers through a common Training Platform supported by ESRC, Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) and partner universities.

Working closely with the Learned Society of Wales, it will deliver support for social sciences students and supervisors on career development, wellbeing, and inclusion. WGSSS is supported by an Ā£18.5 million award from ESRC, which is matched by contributions from partner universities and by Ā£1.5 million-plus investment from strategic partners including Welsh Government, Office for National Statistics, Natural Resources Wales, Welsh Council for Voluntary Action, Cardiff Capital Region City Deal and the Office of the Commissioner for the Well-Being of Future Generations.

This is fantastic news and a ringing endorsement of the collective strength of the universities in the partnership. Together we have a strong track record of delivering social science research with environmental, economic, and societal impact to our communities and more widely across the UK and beyond.

As one of the biggest and most significant investments in postgraduate social science research and training, this partnership will ensure that we continue to develop social scientists who are equipped to deliver impactful research for future generations, providing solutions to constantly evolving complex societal challenges. Importantly, it will offer a boost for postgraduatesā€™ career development, support their wellbeing as well as leading to greater inclusion.

Iā€™d like to thank Professor Harrington and his team across the partnership who worked so hard on this successful bid and look forward to  following the progress of the partnership over the coming years.

Professor Wendy Larner, Vice-Chancellor, Cardiff University

The University of South Wales (USW) is proud to be part of the Welsh Graduate School for the Social Sciences (WGSSS). USW has a long and distinguished history of impactful research in social sciences/policy, evidenced by the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021 outcomes that placed our submission as 1st in Wales for impact. We pride ourselves on not only the strength of our research but also the opportunities and experiences made available to our students, which is reflected in USW being voted the top university in the UK in the recent postgraduate research experience survey. Being part of the WGSSS, will further enhance the research and training opportunities open to social sciences students and we look forward to working in collaboration and partnership with colleagues across Wales and beyond

Professor Martin Steggall, Pro Vice Chancellor Research and Innovation, University of South Wales.

Our vision for postgraduate training is that it will develop globally competitive social science researchers who can operate in interdisciplinary, collaborative, and challenge-led environments across a range of sectors and who have a diversity of backgrounds and experiences.  This redesigned and expanded doctoral training opportunity will enhance the experience for PhD students and boost the UKā€™s capability.

Stian Westlake, ESRC Executive Chair

Rated as ā€˜outstandingā€™ the WGSSS bid was praised by ESRC for its visionary approach to equality, diversity and inclusion, and plans for internships and career development.

Information on how to apply for studentships via the WGSSS Competition for entry in 2024/2025 is available on the Studentships page.