Starting my placement with DEFRA

To introduce myself – I’m David, a Politics and Economics student on placement at Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs). I got this placement via the Government Economic Service – the professional body of Economists that work as Civil Servants across all of the UK Government’s departments and agencies.

Combining my passions – Politics and economics

Defra is a government department that deals with a broad range of issues such as environmental quality, rural economy, food and farming as well as protection from natural threats and hazards. The country’s departure from the European Union presents a unique yet challenging opportunity to put in place clear environmental objectives and reshape a number of policies that affect such issues. As a politics and economics student this placement is an extraordinary opportunity that combines the two disciplines I have a strong passion for.

Within Defra I am part of a team that provides evidence to support the development of UK chemicals, pesticides and hazardous waste policy. As the end of the EU-exit transition period approaches, the team has been very busy setting up all the necessary domestic legislation and regulatory systems as this area used to be an EU responsibility.

Pesticides (which is what I mostly work with) play an essential role in UK farming by protecting crops and increasing yields. The challenge with this policy area is that although pesticides provide a significant amount of added productivity towards the UK’s £120bn agri-food sector, they can also impact the environment, human health and wildlife in various different ways.

Applying my knowledge from my degree to my work

With the help of the evidence and analysis our team provides, government is better equipped to balance the social costs against the benefits of pesticide application. It is a complex yet fascinating area to work on as I have been applying a lot of what I have learned during the first two years of my undergraduate degree.

Starting my placement working from home

I had always envisioned that the start of my placement would consist of a tour of the office, loads of shaking hands and coffee catch-ups as well as setting up my own desk, laptop etc. However, with COVID-19, Bear Grylls’ meme ‘Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.’ has become the motto for every workplace across the country and I therefore had to content myself with a lot of online meetings and enjoying those cups of coffee from my home desk.

My home setup

From induction to Project work

During my first days I was mostly busy with training and induction as well as setting up al IT and HR practicalities. However, I quickly got involved with some fascinating projects. Starting in a team without ever physically seeing anyone you work with is challenging. However, all my colleagues have been really supportive and my line manager has been in constant contact with me to ensure I have all the support I need. Although I still haven’t been into the office, this has not stopped me from having a very positive experience so far!

These first weeks have gone by extremely quickly and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year will bring about. Meanwhile, if you’ve got any questions about applying for the Government Economic Service placement scheme do get in touch with me!