Case study

Defra policy adviser — Emilie Marsh

Emilie loves the fast-paced environment within the Civil Service and her sociology degree set her up to be open-minded and see the bigger picture which helps with her daily work

What degree did you study?

I studied sociology at the University of Derby and I graduated in 2016.

How did you get your job?

I applied to the Civil Service Fast Stream as a graduate. I was a near miss and went through on the direct appointment scheme into my position in Defra. The Civil Service recruitment process isn't easy so try, try and try again if you are unsuccessful the first time.

How relevant is your degree?

Without my degree I would not have been able to apply for this opportunity. But more specifically, the skills I developed from my sociology degree were vital in aiding me in my role. The research skills especially were very useful.

Sociology as a whole gives you the ability to view things on a big picture scale and this is very useful when it comes to policy work. It also developed my open mindedness which really helped me carry out my role in an apolitical manner.

What's a typical working day like?

I have held a few different roles in Defra but my most current role has been split between business support and supporting the director's PA.

A typical day for me in the business support team is spent liaising across the division on any staffing matters. This includes keeping our records up to date for staffing changes, answering any queries around new starters and recruitment into our directorate.

The second part of my job supporting the director's PA is spent organising an impossible diary, pushing back on sometimes very high up people, and arranging meetings. Seeing the bigger picture here is key as I need to know what the priorities are. It's high stress, high paced but very fun.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I enjoy being in contact with lots of different people. I'm very much a people person and being in business support and director support is great because I'm very much in the thick of it. I get to know everyone and can see what's going on. You get a fuller view of the comings and goings and you know who's starting, who's leaving, what's new and what's old. It's great and such a good position to be in.

What are the challenges?

Because I'm central and have been here for three and a half years, a lot of people know who I am and I can be a go-to contact for a lot of people, which can be time consuming sometimes.

Knowing when to push back and knowing that it's OK to do that is a challenge because at first you just want to say yes, yes, yes to make a good impression but you need to make sure you don't overload yourself. Also there is a lot to take in as a new starter, it can be overwhelming but do not let that put you off. They don't expect you to know it all on day one. 

Where do you hope to be in five years?

I hope to be a Grade 7 somewhere in the Civil Service. Preferably the Department for Work and Pensions. That's my next venture.

What advice can you give to others?

  • Take onboard fair constructive criticism from your line manager and act on it where you can.
  • Join a network and get involved in the extra stuff. It's great fun and it will be noticed if you do.
  • Trust your gut.

Find out more

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