Samira Ali

Student placement profile

samira ali


 “I worked in the House of Commons Service as a Specialist Researcher for the Justice Select Committee. The Committee is a group of MPs who scrutinise the work of the Ministry of Justice by conducting inquiries into specific areas of justice policy. Whilst on the Committee, I worked on five inquiries, three of which I managed. The team and I would manage our own inquiries and do everything pursuant to its running on behalf of the Committee, which included organising our weekly televised evidence sessions, briefing witnesses and MPs, and drafting ministerial correspondence.”


Which MP’s did you work with?
“The Justice Select Committee is a cross-party group of MPs, five Conservative, five Labour, and one from the SNP. Many of the MPs are non-practising solicitors and barristers, which made briefing them a lot easier! The MPs would take advice from us on issues worth inquiring into, as well as take advice on procedure from our Clerks and my managers, who are procedural experts. Our main outputs – reports – have such impact on policy due to their cross-party support. It could be hard, as politically impartial staff, to accommodate conflicting MPs’ amendments to reports where they arose."

You got to work in the House of Commons. What was the most interesting experience of your placement?
“Getting to use my experiences and background to make Parliament work better. It was important to me to help the Committee engage those who might not otherwise engage with Parliament, and I was able to promote diversity in various aspects while I worked for the Committee. I was able to suggest and lead a session into racial disproportionality in the criminal justice system in March. I persuaded the Committee to agree to tangible targets for the percentages of female and/or ethnic minority witnesses. Advising on changes to the way we drafted press releases, run their Twitter page, and the means through which we allowed evidence to be more accessible to a wider section of the public was very rewarding.”

What do you enjoy the most about your placement?
“Above all, I enjoyed seeing recommendations I drafted make it into reports and result in real policy changes - drafting hard-hitting questions for the Committee to ask in sessions was also really fun! Working in the Palace of Westminster in such close proximity with very high-profile MPs and public figures was a surreal experience – briefing figures like the Lord Chancellor over the phone in preparation for sessions at which they were appearing was terrifying, but very confidence-building.
My team had a strange role in that we provided a very ‘business as usual’ service to MPs, even where most of the time, business was anything but. Brexit also inevitably meant the atmosphere was very lively - getting to watch Meaningful Votes live and watching PMQs every so often was also always fun. I also really enjoyed opportunities to do work around the House. 

How do you think your placement will help your career?
“I’d quite like to go into policy on graduation, whether working the voluntary sector, Parliament, or in the civil service. This placement will be helpful as it has given me an insight into policymaking and the way Parliamentary select committees work. It has increased my wider legal and commercial awareness of key issues in our courts and prisons and Brexit’s impact on legal services, beyond that which we might learn on our course, which I hope will also be helpful.”

What advice would you give to Aston students embarking on placement year in 2019/20?
“When applying for placements, don’t rule anything out – your placement doesn’t have to be strictly or mainly legal to be meaningful. Placement, whatever you do and wherever you do it, gives you a taste of the real world, as you learn to navigate in a corporate environment that’s really nothing like university! Almost all skills are transferable, and will always be appreciated by any employer in any industry. When on placement, find yourself a mentor. For me, I found the House such an all-engrossing place to work, so finding somebody more experienced to show me how to write briefing documents was helpful. Also, take part in anything wider your workplace offers; if there are any courses you can do alongside work, or wider groups you can join, it’ll help you network and boost your confidence."

How do you think your experience will contribute to your final year studies?
"Pitching potential inquiries to MPs has made me better able to articulate and defend my ideas, which I hope I can apply defending my arguments in my coursework and exams. Learning to prioritise and manage my time more effectively will be helpful especially in modules like my dissertation, where it is my direction, time management, and planning which will make up a larger than normal chunk of my grade.”