Tell us a little about your background…
Having completed my undergraduate studies in Politics at the University of Stirling I progressed onto the Public Policy MSc at the University of Strathclyde. Since finishing the MSc course in September 2015 I have worked in the third sector, for two children and young people focused charities – Includem and Early Years Scotland, before starting in my current role with Colleges Scotland in February 2019. I also had a highly enjoyable internship with the National Autistic Society in the run-up to the Scottish Parliament Elections of 2016.
I am also currently a member of the Children's Panel, taking part in children's hearings. It is a big responsibility, but it’s also incredibly rewarding knowing that you can be making a difference to the lives of children and young people and their families.
Why did you decide to study your chosen subject at university?
I knew during my undergraduate studies that I wanted to pursue my studies further onto an MSc level, both because of my own interest in politics, and public policy within that. I was also aware of the added value that having an MSc would have in moving into work, particularly in a competitive area like public policy and public affairs.
I chose to enter the Public Policy MSc at the University of Strathclyde because I was aware of the quality of teaching that was on offer in the course, and because of the variety of topics that were available to study as part of the course. My course was composed of a mix of core classes which gave an introduction to the theory and practice of public policy, such as Comparative Public Policy and Policy Analysis and those focused more closely on Qualitative Research Methods, which gave me the opportunity to develop a range of skills and methodologies to design, conduct and report on social-based research, and build upon those skills I had learned from my undergraduate studies.
The range of optional classes was also highly appealing, giving me the opportunity to both dive deeper into topics which I had studied in my undergraduate degree, looking more closely at the role of International Institutions and Regimes in policy matters, and to study new areas such as European Governance.
What advice would you give to someone considering studying your course?
To go ahead and apply. The course offers a tremendous opportunity to equip you with the theoretical knowledge of policy-making processes, but more crucially offers the chance to develop those knowledge and enquiry skills and the research based skills that are valuable when moving into a career focused on the development and shaping of public policy and governance.
Do you have a highlight from your time at university?
As part of my studies in public policy I had the opportunity to complete a dissertation focused on the subject of changing social class perceptions in the United Kingdom under the supervision of Professor Sir John Curtice. Having the opportunity to study with such a renowned academic was very valuable and something that I have found has proved especially useful in interview situations.
Where are you working now?
I'm now working in Stirling as a Policy Officer for Colleges Scotland, who represent the collective voice of the college sector in Scotland; acting as representatives, and campaigning for the sector.
As part of my role I am responsible for taking forward and supporting a wide range of key policy drivers, encompassing a wide range of themes and topics, incorporating the 15-24 Learner Journey Review, Mental Health, Apprenticeships/Work-based Learning, College Innovation, and of course Brexit...
A key element of this role involves linking in with key college sector leads, to ensure that our organisational output with regards to policy is informed by their experience and knowledge. A further key responsibility lies in working with colleagues in the Communications and Public Affairs Team, and supporting their work in liaising with both internal and external stakeholders.
What is the best part of your job?
Having the opportunity to work closely with College Principals and other key stakeholder groups in the college sector to develop policy and practice, and to tap into the tremendous knowledge and expertise base that exists in the sector on a range of key socio-economic topics; using this knowledge to inform and influence the work of the Scottish Government and other key agencies in Scottish education policy.
How did your time at Strathclyde help prepare you for this role?
Studying at Strathclyde helped me to build upon the knowledge I had built up in my undergraduate studies, and I feel this left me in a much stronger position with which to move into a career in Public Policy.
On a more practical level the intensity of the course, and being able to manage and balance the competing deadlines, and the pressures that came with those, helped me to develop a valuable soft skill, one that I don't think you can really appreciate until you arrive in a key role such as I am currently occupying now, wherein there can be numerous deadlines and changes which prompt you to think on your feet and be adaptable.
What has been your most memorable moment from your career so far?
During my internship with the National Autistic Society I supported its young campaigners' group to organise a political hustings ahead of the 2016 Scottish Parliamentary Election. I worked with the young campaigners to help them prepare for the event and it was rewarding to see them do a really great job of questioning the political candidates about the issues that are important to them as young people on the autism spectrum.
In my current role a particular highlight was the Colleges Scotland Parliamentary Reception, wherein we were able to bring MSPs and key college sector individuals together in the Garden Lobby for an evening of discussion, and to showcase the impact of colleges on people, communities and economies across Scotland. This also featured a key note speech from Kevin Neary, a West Lothian College student, who spoke of his life experiences, and in doing so powerfully demonstrated the positive impact college education can have.
What are your ambitions for the future?
To continue to develop a career in public policy matters, and more specifically to continue to work towards supporting access to education and equality of opportunity for as many people as possible.
Any final words of wisdom?
Get as much experience as you can as early as you can. Internships are a brilliant way of both building up professional experience and developing your soft skills, but also in helping you to identify a policy area that you’d like to pursue career wise. Not to mention they are brilliant in terms of raising your professional profile and building up your networks.