Originally published on the Ambitious about Autism blog in November 2017
Autistic people tend to have ‘special interests’: subjects about which they are passionate and knowledgeable. Well, my special interest is public affairs and policy, and so when I saw that Ambitious about Autism’s Autism Exchange programme would be hosting a placement in the Civil Service, I jumped at the chance!
Up until this point I hadn’t engaged with Ambitious’ services or looked at the Autism Exchange, and was self-employed working on building a start-up micro record label: working on marketing and social media management after completing my photography degree a couple of years ago.
You may wonder how someone with a creative arts degree who is working with online marketing would fit into the civil service, but the truth is that the civil service is the most diverse workplace, with every kind of job on offer. And the best part is you are making a tangible difference to British citizens’ lives.
After graduating, I struggled with the transition from student to employed life. I spent some time on sickness benefit for mental health illness, and had to work on my emotional resilience and flexibility to get to the stage I am at now.
As Autism is a developmental disorder, we can sometimes experience a delay in our development, even when we appear competent on the outside.
My experience of mental health support, ranging from charities to NHS services, and the benefits system that financially supports those struggling with mental health inspired my interest in government policy. I suddenly realised just how much policy systems affect citizens’ everyday lives.
When I found out I had secured a place on the internship, I was informed that I would be placed in the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). The interns had all been matched to departments that suited their interests, and so my experience of working in small businesses had contributed to my placement in BEIS.
All of the departments sounded interesting, but since my particular interests were in policy and research I felt I had been given the perfect placement to develop my skills and experience.
The placement was only two weeks long but I learned and experienced so much in that short period! I was working in the Commercial New Nuclear team, and was tasked with researching nuclear technologies for a short presentation to refresh the team’s knowledge.
I researched different types of reactors, technological and commercial differences between them, key manufacturers, overviews of trends in the UK and worldwide, progress in fusion power development and other new technologies, and older technologies being phased out.
I delivered a presentation which conveyed some of this complex information in an accessible way, as well as producing an in depth research document so the team could digest the details of the topics.
I was supported by my manager Matt, who helped me identify the key questions I wanted to answer and my target audience. I was pleased to have been given a brief that would help me build on my research skills, and that I would have the opportunity to meet with the Head of Nuclear and Renewable Innovation to aid my research.
I also met with members of my team throughout the two weeks to discuss their career progression and experience of the civil service. This built my confidence in communicating with senior professionals and gave me great insight into the working life of a civil servant.
I applied for the Civil Service Fast Stream graduate scheme last year and got to the final stage, the assessment centre, in March of this year. During my two week internship I had the opportunity to meet with the psychologists in charge of assessment on the Fast Stream for one-on-one sessions, to go over my assessment centre feedback and look at ways to improve for the next Fast Stream opportunity. This was such a valuable opportunity, and now I have all the pointers I need to practice before applications begin again in September.
I had a wonderful time on the internship, and would encourage anyone to consider this scheme if they are looking for career experience. I have gained so much from the experience, and summed it up in our final group meeting as enjoyable, enlightening, enabling and emboldening.