Alumni case study: Lydia Harriss

Alumni case study: Lydia Harriss
Life Sciences Interface
Job title
Science adviser
UK Parliament

In what way was your DPhil important to your employer?

A doctorate was one of the criteria listed for my role. During my DPhil I gained subject-specific knowledge, research skills and an understanding of how academia works, which were all important.

In what ways have the skills and knowledge from your DPhil been useful in your current role?

A key aspect of my job involves researching and writing briefing papers for MPs and Peers on science and technology topics. This requires me to read and analyze academic (and other) literature; to interview experts from academia, Government, industry and the the voluntary sector; and to do lots of writing and editing.

I supervise PhD students who join us on 3-month secondments which allow them to gain experience of researching and writing their own policy briefings. I also interact with academics regularly when researching my own briefings or scoping out suitable topics for future briefings. My experience of academia has helped me to relate to the academics that I work with and to build stronger relationships with them.

I sometimes draw on the subject knowledge that I gained during my DPhil and undergrad degree, but I also often take on unfamiliar subjects. This means that I need to be able to get quickly up to speed on a new topic. During my doctoral training year we did lots of exercises where we were given a few hours to research and present to the class on a totally new topic, which was great practice! All of that experience of giving presentations also helped me to develop my confidence and oral communication skills. In addition, the independence, determination and organization skills that I needed for my doctorate have also helped me a lot in my current role.

What do you think has been of most value to you in undertaking a DPhil at Oxford?

Having the chance to move into an interdisciplinary subject area (which the DTC facilitated) and gaining a DPhil that has helped me to qualify for my current role. Earning a DPhil was also a huge personal challenge, and proving that I could achieve it was one of the greatest rewards for me.

How do you think you benefited from being part of a cohort?

Being part of the DTC introduced me to people working in a wider range of areas than I might of encountered if I had gone straight into a research group. It also gave me an instant group of friends and access to support that helped me make the transition from undergraduate to postgraduate research. It was inspiring to work alongside such talented people, and I’m still in touch with several of them.

What would you say to someone who was considering doing a DPhil at the DTC?

The DTC is a great environment in which to learn more about other disciplines and to explore your research interests. It gives you the chance to find out what it’s like working with a particular supervisor before you commit to undertaking a DPhil project with them. It also helps you to develop broader skills that are important for research and other careers, such as giving presentations and working as part of a team. The doctoral training year has a pretty intense schedule, so come prepared to work hard!

Do you have any fond memories about the DTC to share?

Running around central Oxford with my new office-mates of my first day of the DTC, armed with £10 and a mission to build a model of the human body for use as a teaching aid. Ours had a cauliflower for a brain, which gradually developed more and more mould as the term went on.

During my DPhil I gained subject-specific knowledge, research skills and an understanding of how academia works, which were all important.
Lydia Harriss