Emma Greenwood, policy manager

Read more about her policy career

This interview was conducted in 2012. In the autumn of 2017, we checked to make sure its careers advice was still accurate and updated the essential subjects and salary guide sections. 

What do you do?

I talk to decision makers in government and try to influence them to make decisions that will create the best environment for UK research.

What did you study?

I did biology, French and German A levels, and English and chemistry AS levels. Initially, I wanted to be a languages teacher. I got increasingly interested in biology, so I did a BSc in genetics at the University of York. Afterwards, I knew I didn’t want to do a PhD, but I wanted to work with the wider ethical and communication aspects of science, so I did an MA in biotechnological law and ethics. I then worked in science publishing, which allowed me to stay in science and establish that I wanted to work in the medical charities sector, where I felt I could have more of an impact. In 2008 I joined Cancer Research UK.

What skills from your biology background do you use in your work?

I use a lot of analytical thinking to work out the main aspects of an issue, to help formulate Cancer Research UK’s position on it, and then communicate that in a simple and easy way, whether through a report, speaking to the press or in a blog. I also often meet with MPs, usually as part of lab tours where we showcase some of the work that Cancer Research UK funds, which means I meet lots of different people and get to keep up to speed with the latest developments in science.

How would you get a similar job today?

Increasingly, when recruiting, we look for people who have had an internship or work experience in policy. Cancer Research UK has a three-month internship scheme that has placements three times a year, as well as a two-year graduate trainee scheme, and a lot of our interns and graduates end up getting jobs here afterwards. The most important thing is to demonstrate your passion for policy and the organisation.

What’s the work–life balance like?

I don’t have a family yet but definitely hope to. I know lots of people working in this field who have families – very successfully. There’s so much flexibility that it’s possible to have a really good work–life balance.

What are the most challenging and satisfying things about your job?

It regularly involves analysing long, technical pieces of legislation to work out what they would mean in practice. Policy is a slow process and change doesn’t happen that often, so you have to be dedicated to stick with an issue. However, one of the recommendations in a report I wrote was recently taken forward by the government, which was very satisfying – a career highlight. I also really enjoy going to working dinners in Parliament and having early breakfast meetings with MPs or people from other organisations.


BSc, genetics, University of York (2005).

MA, biotechnological law and ethics, University of Sheffield (2006).

Career history

Assistant editor, Nature Publishing Group (2006–08).

Associate editor, Springer Publishing (2008).

Policy researcher, then policy manager, Cancer Research UK (2008–).

Secondment (policy officer), Academy of Medical Sciences (2010–11).

Lay peer review for the National Institute for Health Research (2010–).

Member, STEMNET Ambassador programme.

Salary guide (2017)

Entry-level science policy job: £20,000–£23,000, rising to around £40,000 (personal correspondence, science policy officers).

Essential subjects (2017)

None – but at least one science is preferable, as are subjects that require analytical skills (Emma Greenwood).

Further reading

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Careers From Biology’ in June 2012 and reviewed and updated in November 2017.

Careers From Biology
Education levels:
16–19, Undergraduate, Continuing professional development