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Lewis secures 50th Government PhD placement

  • Date

    Wed 2 Sep 20

Lewis Smith, smiling in front of a woodland backdrop, wearing a suit and tie with his Essex graduation robes just visible

Research student Lewis Smith, from the Department of History, has become the 50th PhD student to join the Government’s Open Innovation Team.

His three-month placement marks a significant milestone for the cross-government initiative, based in the Department for Education, which helps policymakers generate analysis and ideas by collaborating with academics.

Lewis, who will be supporting policy projects and business development strategies, hopes the placement will help him put his research skills to good use and develop an understanding of policy that will give his work greater impact.

“I want my research to make comments that can offer insightful and impactful policy decisions. This placement offers an insight into how policy is developed and allows me to use my skills to make a tangible difference to people’s lives. It’s an excellent opportunity to ensure my research has a positive impact,” he explained.

He was encouraged by his PhD supervisors Dr Alix Green and Dr Matthew Grant to pursue the opportunity: “Both have been keen to stress the value of getting research ‘out there’ to the wider community, and becoming the best, well-rounded researcher possible,” he said.

Lewis’ PhD research focuses on the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC, now known as British Airways) and how its advertising constructed British power and influence during the Cold War. He is one of a group of history PhD students who launched the History Indoors initiative at the start of the coronavirus lockdown.

Having completed his BA and MA in the Department of History, he believes his Essex education has made him seek out less predictable development opportunities: “I have been encouraged to be intellectually curious, to follow unconventional pathways and directions,” he said.

He says his biggest challenge in the Open Innovation Team will be learning to work on someone else’s idea: “It has been a real culture shock to change from being a PhD student, working on my own idea, to working on an idea commissioned by an external department.”

After completing his PhD Lewis hopes to lecture in either history, sociology or business.

Essex is one of just 20 universities that has seen one of its students secure an Open Innovation Team PhD placement since the scheme launched in 2016.