Meet The FEMS Interns: Joy Aston and Patrick Walsh

17-10-18 Carianne Buurmeijer

An important part of our work at FEMS is supporting contributions from volunteers and interns that help to grow the reach and influence of microbiology. This month we are joined by Patrick Walsh and Joy Aston, two FEMS interns from the Science Communication MSc course at Imperial College London.

Joy looked into the current state of science policy within Europe to provide a detailed analysis of how scientific evidence affects the making of EU legislation. From this analysis she suggested several ways for FEMS to increase the involvement of microbiology in European policy making. Her experience as a FEMS Intern has helped her to gain a job as a Policy Officer at the Royal Academy of Engineering in the UK, for which we are extremely pleased!

Want to do new things with FEMS as a volunteer? Head to our Get Involved page to find out how.

Patrick worked on a project to help develop our opportunities board. His surveying and research produced a framework for how the opportunities board can better meet the needs of the microbiology community. His work involved a variety of research methods and used unique online tools to produce innovative ways of developing this FEMS project.

You can read their testimonials below:

Joy Aston – FEMS Policy Intern

What inspired you to get involved with FEMS?

”I was interested in gaining some more experience working in science policy, and thought this would be an amazing opportunity for me to do so. Most of my policy experience prior to this internship was mainly theoretical – based on academic modules on my MSc at Imperial, or through events and lectures I had attended. My undergraduate degree was in biology, so an opportunity to gain this policy experience whilst also working within an organisation focused on subject matter I am personally interested in made this placement even more appealing. Microbiology is integral to so many aspects of modern life – whether it be food safety, public health, or AMR. It is a field generating incredible scientific expertise that should be informing the relevant policy decisions ”effectively, especially in areas that directly impact on human lives.”

Could you describe what you did for your intern project? And what interesting outcomes came from it?

”For my project, I was mapping and summarising various routes (or ‘knowledge flows’) science can take into policy and legislation, with a focus on the EU (particularly the European Commission and European Parliament) and UK. After this mapping, I assessed potential ways that FEMS (or its members) could have greater input into policy via these routes. The mapping, summaries and assessments were collected into a single document. Throughout my internship, I also came across many opportunities aimed at individual researchers rather than larger organisations like FEMS or its members – these I collected into a document, for FEMS to circulate or advertise as they see fit. I also put together a basic ‘policy toolkit’ for researchers, which is a short document containing some introductory information on policy and links to useful resources.

In terms of outcomes, I think there are many opportunities where FEMS could increase their presence and role with regards to the policy making process. This is both in terms of exploring some of the mechanisms I have mapped, or through circulating opportunities to member organisations and the individuals within them.”

What are your future aspirations?

”This placement really helped me broaden my knowledge of policy, and has actually reinforced my feelings that it is an area I want to work in – I’m actually about to start at the Royal Academy of Engineering as a Policy Officer working on research and innovation policy! I feel that my experience with FEMS over the summer has really helped me get to where I am today, giving me confidence in approaching policy, and further familiarising me with some of the material and mechanisms that exist. To me, policy is a key way that scientific findings translate into real change in the world, and policies appropriately and effectively informed by solid scientific evidence are needed now more than ever – I think that working to help make this happen would be a worthwhile and rewarding career. I’m so grateful for this opportunity with FEMS, and am very excited for the future!”


Patrick Walsh – FEMS Development Intern

What inspired you to get involved in FEMS?

”To get ownership of a project as an intern is very rare. So, when I was offered the opportunity to set the parameters and run my own project, I was ecstatic. At many institutions interns get stuck making tea or printing reports, FEMS allowed me to set the goals, deliverables and hours of my own project. Being given so much responsibility was my motivation to apply and to produce something of tangible benefit for today’s microbiologists.”

Could you describe what you did for your intern project? And what interesting outcomes came from it?

”My project consisted of benchmarking and surveying to identify where microbiologists find career opportunities, and why these resources are successful. The ultimate goal is to use this information to transform the opportunities board into the primary resource for microbiologists seeking career enrichment activities. Making contact with contemporary microbiologists was an illuminating experience as it gave an insight into the barriers which hold back careers and development. Combining field research with desk research I was able to accurately piece together the broad landscape of the opportunity/job market for European Microbiologists and make informed suggestions of how FEMS could carve out a niche for an online community of microbiologists focused around job-posting and career development.

Focusing on the survey results, I concluded that everything microbiologists’ value about job websites equates to ease-of-use. Searching for a job is time consuming and boring so making the process as painless as possible is what keeps people returning to their chosen outlets online. Offline, personal networks are powerful tools for finding opportunities, and being able to harness that power in an online setting would create a valuable community. Integral to fostering that community environment is creating enrichment opportunities which support microbiologists even when they are not looking for jobs.  Whether they are looking to grow their personal network, or learn a new skill, the opportunities board will be there to support the members and the community.

Taking this information and turning it into practical suggestions for the growth of the opportunities board, lead me to researching and suggesting MOOCs, email list servers, and online networking activities. I found that the innovative ideas didn’t come from the activities themselves but from how FEMS could implement them. Suggesting ways in which FEMS could join in was a more intricate task requiring repurposing commercial technology such as Twitch.

FEMS provides a very important service for microbiologists.  It showcases work, helps them stay connected and now it can assist them in their future development too. It is vital that this function lives up to the high standard of work that FEMS has provided for itself.”

What are your future aspirations?

”For now, I am continuing to produce a podcast for the school of public health at Imperial College (please check it out!) where I have used project management and problem-solving skills I developed at FEMS. But who knows what the future holds, and I could end up veering back to world of microbiology!”

If you wish to get involved with volunteering and interning opportunities at FEMS then head to our Get Involved page.

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