Case study

Policy advisor — Gavin Da Silva

Working in the fast-paced world of Brexit policy, Gavin reflects on the pressures and excitement of being a policy advisor in central government

How did you get into working in policy?

I think it was the political events of 2016 that made me realise what I was most interested in. I decided that I wanted to change my career to something that I felt passionate about, and to a job that could make a tangible difference to public life.

The Civil Service, and in particular policy development, seemed to be a great fit. After some searching, I liked the look of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), so I applied directly for a role advertised on the Civil Service jobs website.

What's a day as a policy advisor in central government like?

I work on the UK's future trade policy. My day-to-day job covers a variety of tasks, from advising and briefing ministers to speaking to stakeholders about government policies. More recently, I've been helping draft clauses in upcoming bills to take through parliament.

I usually work from 8.30am to 6pm, but flexible working is encouraged, making it possible to balance your home and life demands more easily. There's also an option to work from home if more convenient too, which people seem to take on a Friday.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

No matter your views on Brexit, it's safe to say that this is an unprecedented time for the UK and this is especially true for trade. The main attraction for my job was the excitement of working on a policy area that no one in the country has any prior experience of. As you can imagine, learning a new profession from scratch combined with the fast-paced world of Brexit policy makes for an interesting job.

Additionally, I'd say the people in DEFRA make the job particularly enjoyable. Working with colleagues who are friendly, knowledgeable and highly capable is a motivating experience and has pushed me to improve myself.

What are the challenges?

Learning everything from scratch is the most challenging aspect of the job, but also what I love the most. Time pressures and deadlines can be demanding, but there's a constant sense of excitement about not knowing what's around the corner.

How has your chemistry degree helped you?

DEFRA seems to have a tendency to hire policy advisors with a background in economics, science and politics/international relations, so my chemistry degree set me in good stead. However, this is by no means exhaustive and entry with other degrees is possible.

Perhaps most helpful to my policy work are the transferable skills I developed during my degree - the ability to adopt an analytical approach to problems, to make decisions - even with incomplete information - and the capacity to continuously review and refine my work in order to improve future endeavours. For both science and policy, the fundamental principles and approach to problem solving and finding workable solutions are the same.

What advice do you have for others hoping to work in policy?

If you're a natural problem solver with an interest in politics and current affairs, then I would highly recommend a job in policy. The Civil Service has plenty of great roles in a variety of different fields, so there's definitely something for everyone.

One of the big advantages of the Civil Service is that there are no restrictions to the type of policy you can work on. So, if you fancied switching departments to work on a completely different area, you could do so as long as you could show you had the ability.

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