Alumni, MA Cultural and Creative Industries course

Working in the Civil Service: An interview with Emily Penn

by Kirsty Warner

For this week’s Alumni interview, I caught up with Emily Penn, the Policy Lead for Data at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), to find out about her career post-MA, and to discuss the skills needed to succeed in this role.

Emily Penn is an expert in policy and strategy. She undertook an MA in Cultural and Creative Industries at King’s College London between 2016 and 2017.

You have an impressive job history; can you tell me about your career journey? How did you get to be the Policy Lead for Data at Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS)?  

I originally studied Fine Art before progressing to a career in media production. After some time working on a variety of projects in media, I decided I wanted a career change and applied to King’s to complete a masters in Cultural & Creative Industries. This masters allowed me breathing space to explore my next steps and I applied for several roles across different industries. One of these roles was the Civil Service Fast Stream, a talent and leadership scheme similar to a graduate scheme. I joined the Fast Stream as a generalist upon completing my masters and went on to work across several government departments including the Ministry of Justice, UK Research & Innovation, and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Upon completing the scheme I took up a senior official role and continued to develop my skills in government. During the pandemic I was tasked with a new project that involved a significant amount of data collection, modelling and visualisation, this helped me realise my interest in data. As a result, I engaged with colleagues from across the department and took on additional learning to secure my current role as Policy Lead for Data.

Are there any expectations you had about this career path that you have found differed from reality, in both a good or bad way? 

I honestly knew little about the Civil Service when joining the Fast Stream, so found working in government a very new experience with a steep learning curve in terms of understanding how Civil Service works and how my work fits into the Civil Service agenda. Over the course of my career, I have been most surprised by how I have been able to transfer my interests into my roles, for example using design skills from my art degree in presentations and my sociological grounding from my masters in considering policy impacts.

What skills are the most crucial for your current role? And how did you develop these? 

Stakeholder management is critical as I work with a wide range of people in government and outside the Civil Service. I have developed these through formal training but also listening and asking for feedback. This has allowed me to continually develop these skills and apply them to the projects I have been working on.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter this industry?  

I would encourage any students that are interested in joining the Civil Service to look at the various entry points to government, with schemes such as the Fast Stream and Summer Diversity Internship Programme. I would also encourage students from all backgrounds and academic subjects to apply, diversity is a key part of the Civil Service and it is important that we have people with a range of experiences to reflect our diverse society. On a personal note, I would especially encourage people with arts backgrounds to apply for the Civil Service as creative thinking is a key part of the role.

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