Amber was a NERC Fellow in 2008. Wanting to explore more beyond the very applied nature of her PhD in wildlife conservation, she saw a POST fellowship as an opportunity to see how her work could be used for real change. At POST she authored a POSTnote on wildlife diseases. Since then she’s had a long academic career and has set up a studio helping researchers get their work in front of a wider audience. We caught up with Amber to reflect on her time at POST and how it influenced her trajectory.
The POST experience
Many fellows look back at their time at POST fondly. For Amber the experience was eye-opening.
“My time at POST was great, and really a game changer for me. It was a chance to see a world that most people never get to.”
Beyond researching and writing her POSTnote, she sat in on committee meetings and organised a parliamentary seminar on her POSTnote topic. She travelled in search of stakeholders to interview and met many interesting people. She says her fellowship directly influenced her research direction, making her more interested in ensuring that her work could be used in policy.
But perhaps one of the memorable experiences for her was the internal review process.
“I remember after writing my first draft, it went through internal peer-review, and we sat down and had a meeting where they picked through my writing and criticised it. That was incredibly useful. They picked on words like ‘habitat’ as being jargon, which to me seemed like a pretty accessible word at the time.”
“It completely changed the way I wrote my papers, and I think made me more able to write for wider audiences.”
Life after POST
After her fellowships Amber went down a rather standard academic path at first. She started with a postdoc at Royal Holloway looking at using ancient DNA to work out how historical climate change impacted wildlife, with a view to predicting future impacts. Then another postdoc at Helsinki University looking at fisheries genetics, to inform management of Baltic Sea herring fisheries. Then she followed that up with an Academy of Finland fellowship at Helsinki University, and a Marie Curie Fellowship and permanent Lectureship at University of Exeter on wildlife disease, and lobster fisheries genetics.
Thinking about the impact of the fellowship on her trajectory she says she’s absolutely certain it helped her stand out.
“Being able to show you have direct experience with the policy side of things is quite unusual as that experience is hard to get. I was even still mentioning it when I had an interview for a permanent position, in a department which valued applied research and policy experience, and I expect it helped me get that position.”
In 2014 Amber launched a studio helping researchers get their work in front of a wider audience.
“I was getting a bit exasperated by the endless treadmill of producing papers that might not ever get read or used, and wanted to try something different. We mostly work with researchers to make sure their research reaches more people, more effectively, and involves people directly. It’s hard not to see a direct link there with the POST experience!”
Advice to new POST fellows
Amber believes the POST fellowships are rare and valuable experiences that should “absolutely be grabbed if you have the chance”. She witnessed them opening so many doors, and making people much more employable. But even for those who would want to stay in research, she thinks exposure to policy can make one’s research better and more useful for the world.
“To be honest I think it would be great if these were embedded within every PhD, so everyone came out with a bit deeper understanding of the context their research fits within, a better ability to communicate complex information, and an appreciation of the compromises that have to be made when it comes to policy decisions.”
You can follow Amber on Twitter at @amberfirefly.