Interview with a Policy Specialist

Imogen Watson has spent many years working in Parliament, both in the Parliamentary Research Service as well as for MPs. She has covered a range of different policy areas and currently focuses on the environment, food and rural affairs as well as culture, media and sport.

What is your job title?

Policy Specialist.

Where do you work?

The Parliamentary Research Service (PRS). We are a research group that provides drafting, research and briefing services for Labour MPs. We cover anything that happens in Parliament, across all departments. I personally work on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)  and the Department for Digital Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) brief. Basically, we do the background research and parliamentary perspective of anything that is happening in Parliament rather than party political items.

We are funded through IPSA and based in the House of Commons, well, on the parliamentary estate!

What do you do?

I cover issues that come up within DEFRA and DCMS. So I do a lot of things to do with animal welfare and the environment and wildlife. Food and farming are also very popular. I will do background research, reading Hansard and then check that I am up to date on written questions, statements, government announcements and the news in general, just so I am across all of the brief.

Then when requests come in I will often write a summary of an issue, whether that be a summary of any legislation or a commentary on it. I often also draft wording that the MP might want to use, if they’re doing any sort of public engagement work. On top of that we monitor for the day’s or the week’s events, so if there are any urgent questions, ministerial statements, things like that, we’ll provide a summary of those as they crop up.

What was your route to getting here?

I studied Politics and French at university in Exeter. When I was there I did an internship with the MP for Exeter as part of a university scheme, through the politics department. I then stayed on when they wanted some extra help in the constituency office in my final year. I was an intern, but I also had responsibility for my own casework. After I graduated, I did a bit of campaigning for the parliamentary candidate back in Wolverhampton, which is where I’m from.

I graduated in the July and then in the November I started working at the PRS as their parliamentary officer, in a front of house role, dealing with emails or phone calls coming in and trying to increase membership. And then the parliamentary candidate that I had helped campaign for over the summer got elected in the 2015 General Election! He originally wasn’t going to hire anyone in London but he won the Private Member’s Bill ballot and took on assisted dying so I was hired to help with that on a fixed term basis. The Bill fell but I was kept on a bit longer, now working on a shadow Treasury brief. I was with him until 2017 when he stood down and I was made redundant.

I moved on to work for six months at the Local Government Association in their comms team but didn’t enjoy it very much so I went back to Parliament. I was a bit confused about what to do next, as I felt that I’d already done parliamentary work, but I went back on a very fixed agreement that I would be there for six months. And then I went back to university! So it’s been a bit of jumping around.

My Masters was in global cooperation and security, which is a fancy way of saying international relations and security studies. But I graduated in December 2019 and January 2020 was when the UK left the EU properly, so the international relations market was not the happiest it’s ever been. In the first part of 2020 I ended up waitressing for a few short weeks before the pandemic hit and then I did a few months helping out in Ben Bradshaw’s office again, trying to clear their casework backlog. I also worked in a pub for a while until I was furloughed in lockdown three. February 2021, I started at the PRS in this current post, which was originally only a short term contract. Various changes then happened within the team and I got asked if I would take on Defra and DCMS on a permanent basis.

As an aside, working in an MP’s office is great and an interesting role but it doesn’t set your career up for life. It helps, but within an MP’s office itself there can be quite quickly a ceiling to where you can go. Unless you have a campaigning MP who’s got quite a big office, and there is the chief of staff role or something like that, there isn’t much further to go with it. So you do have to start thinking about where else you might like to work and whether you’ve made connections or have worked on a topic you find particularly interesting. I also think a lot of it is luck.

Why public policy?

One of the things I’ve learned over the last few years is to take an interest in almost anything that comes in front of me, because I can usually find something interesting about most things I’m looking at.

There is also that desire to do something that’s useful and that could be helpful to people. While I’ve been working, the Labour Party has been in opposition so, in terms of making substantial differences to policy, I haven’t had that much opportunity yet but if there’s a way to do that, that’s something that’s always interested me.

Another aspect is the increase in misinformation. It is very easy for people to not get the truth. And although what we do is linked to an opposition perspective, it is still very much about getting what is actually happening in Parliament out there. I find it very frustrating to see misinformation going around because it’s never that black and white. And public policy is also never black and white. Everything we write has to be sourced and it’s then frustrating when you see MPs using stats that don’t have that rigour.

What is rewarding about your sector?

For me, personally, I really enjoy getting a greater understanding of things that are going on. Although that can also be depressing at the same time, because a lot of what I look at is the bad side of things. But seeing how many people do care about things is really rewarding, because it’s very easy to fall into a trap of thinking no one cares. I mean that in terms of MPs, but also constituents, for example, who are writing in on things they care about.

Learning is always rewarding, as is solving problems. Sometimes, we get an issue that is very niche, and that I’ve never come across before, but I have to get to the root of the issue and pull a brief together. I find that very rewarding.

What is success for you?

I don’t necessarily have a concrete answer, but I think enjoying the job is important as well as knowing it’s a job well done. It’s also nice not have to think about work 24/7, which is potentially a risk in politics and has the potential to be quite stressful. So for me, it’s being able to do the work that I do, do it well, but also have a life outside of it.

What are the challenges facing policy?

There are a lot of issues and problems going on, and they are all sort of interconnected which can be a challenge. We need to better realise that, actually, they don’t all work in isolation and there is a lot of policy overlap. I think there can be a tendency to consider them as individual issues and for short-term solutions to be applied.

What has been your worst job experience?

I worked in a job where I was misinformed about what it actually would involve. I thought I would get comms experience but I ended up doing a lot of personal assistant work, which is not what I wanted to do. I was very miserable and didn’t stick it out for very long to be honest!

What has been your best job experience?

Probably when I was working on the Finance Bill and dealing with the legislation and amendments. This is going to sound very nerdy, but working with legislation and having to follow an amendment through from the original wording and understand what they’re trying to change and what that will do, and then learning how to draft very specific wording to make the point that you’re trying to make. That was very very satisfying.

What would you tell those wanting to work in the sector?

Be open minded to the kinds of roles that you could go for. Don’t think that the role that you necessarily take has to be your dream job because you will learn things as you go through that job that will lead into other fields or into other things going forward. Also, you don’t know necessarily what opportunities might arise from a job. I worked for an MP where I thought it was a fixed term temporary role and I ended up spending two years working on a lot of other legislation and other interesting fields. So be open minded to where things could take you.

And don’t feel that you have to have to follow a specific path, just because other people have followed it.

What do you look for when hiring?

I haven’t hired lots of people but from an organisation perspective I would say, that you might not necessarily be the finished article from the get go but you don’t have to be. I think there’s a big misconception that when you go for a job advert you have to already be able to do everything perfectly, because otherwise, what’s the point? You don’t, otherwise you would get bored very quickly.

If you had one sentence of advice what would it be?

Make sure the decisions and steps that you take are what is right for you and not what you think you are supposed to do.



First job after graduation?

Parliamentary Officer at the PRS

Degree subject?

Politics and French

Morning lark or night owl?

Night owl

Summer or winter?


Worst paid job?

Oh, it would have been as a waitress. I got really good tips at the pub so I can’t say that!

Favourite policy area?

An even split between Defra and Foreign Affairs

Reports or events?


What are you reading right now?

I’m rereading The Hunger Games. I have also been dipping into Prisoners of Geography

When you’re not working what are you doing?

Dancing, seeing friends. I bake a lot. I actually also ran a bakery from home for seven months of the pandemic.

Most excited about in 2022

The chance to go travelling again and being able to see friends regularly.

Join our mailing list for all the latest jobs and internships direct to your inbox

You may be interested in…