In 2000, Sarah-Jayne applied for a POST Fellowship through the British Psychological Society (BPS) as a PhD student. While she can’t remember much about the application itself (“it was 21 years ago!”) she remembers wanting to gain some experience in science policy outside of pure scientific research. Now a leader in a different research area than the one she first studied, she still wonders what might have been if it was not for her fellowship.
The POST experience
During her time at POST, Sarah-Jayne worked on a POSTnote on early years learning. She recalls learning a lot, meeting many people in politics and policy, and lunches in the House of Commons canteen. She serendipitously spent most of her time with the House of Commons Education Committee, as they happened to be carrying out an inquiry into early years education during her Fellowship.
“They wanted to know what the developmental neuroscience and psychology evidence said about early years provision and the start of formal education. I travelled around the country with the Committee to visit schools, early years centres and maternity programmes in deprived areas. I sat in on oral evidence sessions in the House of Commons. It was incredibly eye opening.”
The fellowship taught Sarah-Jayne how to distil scientific information in a form understandable and useful for policymakers, a thing she’s kept doing ever since.
Life after POST
Sarah-Jayne has enjoyed a long and fruitful career researching brain development in adolescents and has written a book on the topic. Today she is Professor of Psychology at the University of Cambridge and leader of the Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience Group.
But when she arrived at POST, she was studying schizophrenia in adults.
“During the POST fellowship I became really interested in brain development and its relevance for education policy. This has been my field for the last 18 years. Two of the first papers on teenage brain development were published in 1999 and I read and cited them in my POSTnote. It was the first time I had heard that the brain still develops during adolescence. This was a really new and quite radical finding at the time. The reason why it fitted together with my PhD is that schizophrenia starts in late adolescence. I sometimes wonder whether I would have ended up in this field if I had not read those papers during my secondment at POST.”
The fellowship was a positive experience for Sarah-Jayne, and it makes her wish there were more policy fellowships at all career stages. Though she also thinks it would be great to give policymakers the same opportunity, so they can get more exposure to science.
Advice for new fellows
During her fellowship Sarah-Jayne remembers trying to take advantage of every opportunity offered to her. She helped with the committee inquiry, went to several visits outside Parliament and said yes to everything.
“My advice to future Fellows is to take advantage of all these opportunities, even if they mean waking up early in the morning to catch a train somewhere – it is worthwhile. I would also recommend proactively contacting and trying to meet people in Parliament, and trying to learn as much as you can… because three months pass very quickly.”
You can find Sarah-Jayne on Twitter @sjblakemore.