Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

My job explained: Civil servant

Home Office headquarters at 2 Marsham Street, LondonPaul Allen studied astrophysics and now works at the Home Office in the Police and Crime Standards Directorate as a researcher. This involves providing analysis of data on crime and police performance for ministers and police forces.

How did you get to where you are now?

I didn’t train specifically for my current career. I studied physics at university, followed by a PhD in astrophysics, and then I worked in astrophysics for three years. While none of this was directly relevant in working in government it did provide me with a lot of useful skills.

When I decided to change career, I applied for (and was offered) several jobs in government. During the recruitment process, and in my current job, I found that many of the skills I’d developed as a physicist such as creativity in solving problems, numeracy, and the ability to communicate complex ideas were both highly valued and sought after.

Can you describe a typical working day?

It’s hard to describe a typical working day, as it can be quite variable. Usually I’ll be in the office, and probably have one or two meetings to go to. I’ll typically spend a fair amount of time talking to others in person, by phone, or by e-mail. For example, today I’ve been explaining some policing statistics to an inspector from the Met (Metropolitan Police Service), I’ve contributed to a report on crime for the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit, and have been involved in testing and developing some new technology for our website.

What's the best thing about your job?

Knowing that the analysis my team provides is used and appreciated by those involved in making important decisions at the top level such as ministers, and by those working to improve the situation at the front line such as the police.

Have there been any challenges to getting where you are now?

I was the first person in my family to go to university, and didn’t really know anybody that had been to university or studied science so it was difficult to know what to expect, where to apply, and what might be involved. Most of my school friends didn’t go to university either. I felt I had to find out a lot of things for myself, and make some choices that were quite different to everybody else I knew.

What qualities and skills do you think are important for your role?

Having a good understanding of data issues, along with the ability to tackle complex problems and think creatively are all very useful skills. You also need to explain data and analysis and to work alongside others without a technical background so you need to be able to express yourself clearly.

What advice would you give to someone following in your footsteps?

To do whatever interests them, as at every stage there will be numerous options and possibilities available. It’s always possible to move and change to other areas.

What is your favourite physics related invention?

I’ve always been impressed by the fact that even pure science, which often has no obvious direct benefits, almost always ends up having important uses. For example technology that was developed exclusively for x-ray astronomy turned out to be useful in detecting cancer in the human body. When Einstein came up with general relativity it was to explain gravity and cosmology. It didn’t necessarily seem relevant to the real world, but the accuracy of widely used GPS navigation systems relies on knowledge of relativistic effects.

Related links