There are many internship and student placement opportunities available throughout the Civil Service, and in the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) we try to give our interns a comprehensive, rounded experience to add to their skills and development, while ensuring they are treated as part of the team. In our latest blog, we talk to some recent placement students and interns about their experiences working at OSR.
Izzy – Government Statistical Service (GSS) Sandwich Year Placement, now working at HM Treasury
I did a sandwich year placement at OSR, between studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics at the University of Leeds. The world of statistics regulation was not one I had been previously acquainted with, so I was very much going in blind.
I think one of the most eye-opening things I learnt at OSR was just how easy it is for statistics to be misused and misinterpreted! I came to understand that there is so much more to a statistic than just the number in front of you, and how important it is to be critical in your interpretation of data and evidence. This was a really useful lesson to learn, and definitely something I’ve taken forward in my final year of university, and beyond.
My placement highlight was definitely playing a leading role in OSR’s systemic review of poverty statistics. I got to work with departments across Whitehall, as well as interview a range of stakeholders including leading charities, think tanks and researchers. As a university student, it was extremely cool to be speaking to people whose papers I had spent my degree reading! It was also fascinating to learn about the complexities of measuring poverty, and to make a meaningful contribution towards improving how this is done within a space I care a lot about.
Since finishing university, I’ve started working in HM Treasury as a Policy Advisor specialising in economic risks. In my short time there, I’ve already found my year at OSR to have come in incredibly handy. I’ve learnt to engage much more critically with statistics and data when I use them in my work, which, as a policy advisor, is a really vital skill. I’ve also managed to hold my own in quite a few heated debates on inflation measurement, which is definitely not something I could have said before…!
I think statistics are hugely important for allowing the public to hold government to account for the decisions it takes. They enable people to understand and assess the motivations behind policy decisions that have a direct impact on their lives – as well as how effective those decisions ultimately are. In that way, statistics are a really crucial link between politics and the public – which is why OSR has such an important role to play in making that process as transparent as possible.
I’m currently part-way through my placement year working at OSR, between my studies in Economics at the University of Bath. I’ve been working in the Economy and Business, Trade and International Development domains.
My highlight of this year had to be working on casework. There is no specific casework that comes to mind, but I compare it to being a statistics detective. Hunting round, trying to find a claim’s sources never loses appeal. Furthermore, it is great feeling to find the smoking gun – the source or figure that they are claiming. Lastly, it feels like it has a direct impact. By regulating the use of statistics, OSR builds confidence in the statistics used in the public domain.
I wasn’t aware of OSR before my placement started, but I quickly understood how important it was that both the production and the use of statistics are kept to a high standard. It’s important to consider how statistics are used and the potential damage from their misuse.
The world is complicated, and people aren’t omniscient. Statistics are a way of depicting vast amounts of information in a clear understandable way. But statistics aren’t simply nice little descriptions of the world to be quoted at pubs. Statistics can make or break public policy proposals. The public should have as much information as possible to make informed decisions that best shape our future. This requires accurate and timely statistics which the public can trust. Furthermore, statistics are not just used for public policy as statistics are intertwined with our daily life. People use statistics to decide where their kids go to school or whether to stop smoking. Therefore, it is important that statistics are produced and presented to a high standard.
Following my placement, I will go back to university for my final year of my degree. From there, I plan to apply for the Government Economic Service fast track scheme. I’ve really enjoyed my time at OSR – everyone has made me feel so welcome, and every day has felt different. The work varies quite substantially, and I rarely repeat a task. There is always something new to do and work rarely feels monotonous.
OSR has helped me develop as a person, both professionally and academically. I have no doubts that the skills I have obtained here will benefit me greatly in my academic and professional career. OSR has highlighted to me that I want to work within the public domain and have a positive impact on the lives of the general public.
Martin – The Summer Diversity Internship Programme (SDIP) (now the Summer Internship Programme (SIP))
Working at OSR was a great way to see first-hand how statistics are regulated. I gained an appreciation for how useful statistics are for users and the importance that they are trustworthy, made with quality and provide public value. I was involved in many projects whilst at OSR and whilst the work was challenging, I found it incredibly rewarding.
At first, I was nervous about working in an office environment, especially one focussed on statistics, as I graduated in film and philosophy. However, I quickly found out that OSR also provides roles that are more analytical than number-heavy, which I was very happy about. On arrival to OSR I was assigned a great line-manager, Grace, who inducted me into the organisation and introduced me to the team. I was very lucky as Grace was glad to answer any questions I had. I was also assigned a buddy, Ewan, who helped me settle in and answer the questions I had.
I completed SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) targets during my time at OSR. For example, I compiled a data evidence list in which I assessed and recorded whether sources contained specific information. This was an interesting task as it allowed me to see what information each source contained and built my experience in using office tools. I also constructed a survey on development and wellbeing within the department, which allowed me to gain an understanding of the thoughts and feelings of those working in OSR and assess how this could be improved. These tasks were useful as they provided me with transferable skills such as ICT use, project management and analytical skills.
Working at OSR also offers opportunities to work with other government departments. After asking my line-manger if I could do some work within the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), I was given an opportunity to work with Ben and Job from OSR’s crime and justice domain, on a compliance check of MOJ’s statistics on Women and the Criminal Justice System and an assessment of Scottish prison population statistics. I found this work very interesting and am very grateful to have been given an opportunity to work on them.
Even though SDIP is online-based, I was able to visit the Newport office and both London offices, which gave me the opportunity to meet some of my colleagues in person and experience an immersive day-in-the-life on the job.
Overall, I would say the experience was highly positive as I feel I have improved my skillset since starting at OSR. Everyone being kind and friendly has also made it an experience that I won’t forget.
OSR is always keen to hear people’s views on statistics and how they are used. To get in touch with us, or just to stay up to date with our work, follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn, and sign up for our monthly newsletter.