Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Systems

Bridging policy and technology with the Good Food Nation

Work placement within the Scottish Government helps undergraduate student gain valuable skills and connections.

Sarah Holmes bottle-feeding a lamb
Sarah Holmes

Sarah Holmes, a Global Agriculture and Food Systems undergraduate student, is currently doing a work placement with the Scottish Government, within the Good Food Nation department.

The Good Food Nation policy aims to ensure that everyone in Scotland has access to safe, healthy, and locally produced food, while also promoting sustainable agriculture and reducing food waste.

Ms Holmes came to know of this opportunity through the Global Academy for Agriculture and Food Systems Director, Geoff Simm, and it seemed like a perfect opportunity for her, as it aligned with her interest in Scottish food systems.

During this three-week long placement, Ms Holmes has been working full time remotely and from the Scottish Government’s building in Leith, Edinburgh.

This placement, offered as part of Ms Holmes’ degree, provides an opportunity for students to develop practical skills and expand their network.

This experience has helped the student gain an in-depth understanding of policy writing in the real world.

Technology and policy writing

Ms Holmes is supporting the Good Food Nation department by researching and comparing documents produced by the Scottish and Welsh governments.

Ms Holmes gains insight into how these governments are evolving and adapting to changing circumstances by comparing older Scottish government documents with newer, similar versions implemented in Wales, to draw valuable conclusions about which policy elements may be applicable in practice.

She has been using artificial intelligence ChatGPT, to see if this technology can compare government documents, which could potentially facilitate writing new policy.

As artificial intelligence continues to become more prevalent and refined, it's increasingly important to be aware of how it can be applied to different fields.

“I use this technology quite carefully, and I had to try to minimise using it until I formed my own opinions, and identified good and bad aspects of the documents so that my ideas weren't being influenced by the artificial intelligence,” the student notes.

Theory to practice

As an undergraduate student, Ms Holmes spent a significant portion of her academic journey learning about theories and concepts that shape her field of expertise. But what happens when she takes those theories, and puts them into practice?

“It's quite daunting,” – Ms Holmes explains – “I was quite worried at first, because writing policy for the Scottish Government is a very different type of writing than policy writing in an academic context.”

However, her supervisors were very supportive and helped ease her worries, she says.

“They gave me a really good pep talk. They told me whatever I'm producing will answer something for them, even if it's saying there's no data, that in itself will be useful.”

“My favourite part of this experience was the learning seminars I went to. When listening to the presenters going through their current academic research projects, I saw a lot of cross-over between what they were talking about, and topics I have learnt through my course. It comforted me that what I was learning in University is very applicable to ‘real life’ work.”

Sarah HolmesUndergraduate student

Throughout her placement, Ms Holmes networked with members of the Scottish Government Graduate Development Programme, as well as contacts working with Scottish venison, a topic she is interested in writing about for her final year dissertation.

“I have made valuable connections who will be able to answer questions about the Scottish wild venison system that aren’t currently available online.”

This experience, the student notes, has given her insight into the inner workings of the government, which will be helpful if in the future if she decides to work closely with companies lobbying for global issues involving policy.