Lewis Holden, policy adviser, UK government

Read more about his career

What did you study at A level?

Biology, chemistry, geology and geography.

What did you study at university and why?

I did my first degree in geology, then I did an MSc in climate change. I chose geology because you get the opportunity to travel on amazing field trips; I went to Greece, Spain, Italy, Scotland and all over England throughout my degree. I also liked that it was a combination of all of the sciences rather than just straight chemistry or physics, and that it has a real human impact. Learning about how to predict earthquakes and volcano eruptions, for example, gives you the ability to help thousands of people every year if you want to work in that area.

I then went on to study climate change, because when I was studying geology it became obvious that global warming is the biggest single challenge facing the human race right now, and I wanted to use my skills to work with those trying to solve it. I also wanted to do it because it involved computer modelling and quantitative skills, which are transferable across a lot of different careers.

What do you do now?

I am a policy adviser in the UK government. My role involves ensuring the departments that I work with spend their money wisely, driving growth and efficiency, with a specific focus on climate policy. I joined through a departmental graduate scheme. I applied for the Civil Service Fast Stream and didn’t get in, but really I’m glad as I prefer being able to work in one department and get to know it properly rather than having to move every six months like on the Fast Stream.

How has the biology you’ve studied helped your career?

Geology as a degree is very cross-disciplinary; studying subjects like palaeontology and organic chemistry relied a lot on having a good understanding of biology. For my climate change MSc it was really important for learning about carbon cycles, ocean circulation and using biological indicators to reconstruct climate change. Biology has been really important in getting me to where I am today.

What would you like to do in the future?

I would like to keep working in climate policy, influencing decisions that will shape the future of our planet and the human population. I’d also be interested in seeing how climate policy is shaped and influenced by the private and charity sectors.

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

I think the best thing is being entrusted with responsibility and making decisions even though I’m early on in my career, and the most challenging thing is probably having to deliver difficult decisions to people and organisations who have invested time in policy ideas.


A levels: biology, chemistry, geology and geography (2013).

BSc, geology, Imperial College London (2016).

MSc, climate change, University College London (2017).

Salary guide (2017)

A starting salary in the Civil Service Fast Stream is £28,000, rising to around £45,000–£55,000 with experience (Prospects). Outside of the Fast Stream, Civil Service salaries vary.  

Essential subjects (2017)

To study geology, you’ll usually need two sciences. Geography is also useful (Which? University).

Further reading

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Careers From Biology’ in November 2017.

Ecology and environment, Careers
Careers From Biology
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development