Scott Singer develops course to help graduates tackle policy problems

DPhil in International Relations candidate Scott Singer has developed a course to equip departmental graduates with skills and knowledge to help them address key policy problems.

In the past academic year Scott – who is co-director of the Oxford China Policy Lab (OCPL) – developed the ‘Policy Methods for Academics’ course, drawing on his experiences of working in policy engagement. 

The inspiration for the course came through Scott’s role with the OCPL and work he had been carrying out providing students with skills to enhance their policy engagement in the China and emerging tech policy worlds. A lot of the course’s content applied concepts he developed with his OCPL co-director Kayla Blomquist and was also inspired by DPIR alumnus Remco Zwetsloot (2014, DPhil in International Relations, University College).

The aim of the course was to arm DPIR students with frameworks to think about impact, upskill them in key policy areas, expose them to a wide range of impactful careers, and help think through the steps they could take while in Oxford to get there.

The course was divided into four key segments: understanding the academic-policy divide, core policy engagement skills like stakeholder mapping, applied skills such as interacting with the media, and how to leverage the dissertation to position yourself for policy impact.

Scott said: 

“We had written extensively on the need for the UK to develop capabilities in critical policy areas like China, as we did a couple of years ago for the UK Parliament, and really wanted to be part of the solution, not just for the UK but more globally.

“We realised that most of what we were teaching was relevant not just to these worlds but to the world of politics and international relations more broadly. A few weeks later, “Policy Methods for Academics” was born!

“Overall, the course had three core motivations: firstly - we live in an era of pressing problems, secondly - individuals – including young people – can have tremendous impact on these problems, and finally - the choices students make in their time in graduate school can set themselves up exceptionally well to have impact.”

Scott added that one of the key outcomes of the course was that it had helped bolster student confidence and skills – with students’ reporting increased confidence in policy engagement across 12 metrics post-course.  

He said part of the course’s theory of impact was to develop deep relationships with his students to understand their skills and interests, provide personalized guidance, and connect students with alumni working in similar areas.

He commented: 

“In many ways, we won’t know how impactful the course was for many years. If students are able to leverage these skills into a uniquely impactful first job, for example, their policy impact decades down the line could stand to benefit. For now, it’s exciting to see many students pursue high-impact policy internships, delve into their policy-relevant theses, and think about which issues are most important to them.”

It has yet to be determined if the course will run again next academic year.