BES POST Fellowship: an update

This post is by Rory O’Connor, who has just completed a 3 month BES Fellowship at the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. Rory is a final year PhD student at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and the University of Oxford. His research assesses the ecology and behaviour of two native species of butterfly.

As with the first, the second half of my POST fellowship has flown by and sadly come to an end. However POST has not finished with me. Having just been through one stage of review I’ve now tweaked my POSTnote – Halting Insect Pollinator Declines – in preparation for its second round of scrutiny, this time with the experts in the field. So, I shall pick up where my last post left off, at the drafting of the POSTnote.

With my meeting notes transcribed and pile of references and reports to hand I sat down to write my masterpiece. It was, as with any work of greatness, to be a journey of extremes. There were times when (as I sat cradling my 4th cup of tea) I thought I would be defeated by four sides of A4. There was the joy of a paragraph so sharp that paper cuts were a danger and the agonies of reading back a section only to find it made no sense at all. Slowly, draft upon draft moved between my boss, Jonny Wentworth, and I, until I had something that could go for internal review.

Two weeks passed and then the time for judgement came. My place of reckoning was to be the café where I’d enjoyed many a lunch; a deceptively cosy environment. I sat at a table with 5 POST advisors, each of whom had read my draft, and (in the kindest possible way) they pulled it apart. It was brutal, meticulous, absolutely necessary and incredibly useful. The extensive review process at POST is one of the things that make POSTnotes such a valuable resource; they get scrutinised by some of the sharpest and well informed minds in science policy before it goes out to 15 or so experts on its subject for another thorough dressing down. Every word, sentence, paragraph and heading must prove itself.

My work at POST was not restricted to the note. I’ve written a POSTbox, a 1 side of A4 summary, on the thorny issue of neonicotinoid pesticides and helped out with the House of Commons Library note on pollinators and pesticides. I’ve also been organising the launch event for the POSTnote, with four wonderful speakers lined up and chaired by Sarah Newton MP (date for your diaries – 12th September, 2.00-4.00pm, Westminster – for details click here ).

Experiencing daily life in Westminster remained fun and exciting, but a few experiences were particularly memorable. In June, I had the privilege of attending the BES Centenary Launch event in Parliament. Shortly after, I attended a brilliant Talk Science event at the British Library; Pollinators and pesticides; is there a plan bee? (organised by Stuart Smith, a BBSRC student on a similar fellowship). It was a well-informed and lively debate, and for the first time I felt knowledgeable enough to stand up and ask a question.

My final day at POST was made particularly memorable as I attended a meeting of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee: ‘Bees and other insects beneficial to humans.’  After a series of interesting talks, I attended a meal as a representative of the BES. There I sat, with the speakers, MPs, peers and some of the esteemed attendees, and we simply discussed issues raised in the meeting whilst eating delicious food.

And what have I learnt? I cannot profess to be an expert, but I’ve got a far better grasp of the process through which policy is shaped, the framework and institutions that make it happen. My writing has improved, as has my analytical thinking and ability to synthesize a lot of complicated information; all particularly useful skills to hone for when I’m writing up my thesis. The simple but important things, like my confidence in asking questions and talking to people about my work and ideas have also improved. I’ve also learnt a lot about the tremendously important world of insect pollinators.

I’ve one more blog post to come, but it must be said that I am truly indebted to both the BES and POST for allowing me this experience. I cannot thank them enough. I have learnt so much, met so many fantastic people and had an all-round brilliant time. My message to any fellow PhD students pondering an application…DO IT!