Tamsin Bell, a PhD student from the University of Cambridge, shares her experience of attending this year’s Voice of the Future event.
The development and implementation of government policy is a complex process. Many scientists may not fully understand the methods of politicians but they can play an integral role in the policy making process by providing scientific evidence for policy.
The Voice of the Future event, organised annually by the Royal Society of Biology, is one of many initiatives which aim to bridge the gap between scientists and policy-makers by providing early career researchers with a flavour of policy making. This year’s event took place on 1 March at Portcullis House (the building next to the Houses of Parliament where many MPs have their offices) and I was lucky enough to take part.
During the event, representatives from 20 scientific institutions and two schools were invited to sit around the infamous horseshoe and interrogate witnesses from Parliament and Government about what matters to them. There were four sessions in total, with witnesses including Sir Mark Walport FRS (Government Chief Scientific Adviser), Nicola Blackwood MP and her Committee colleagues (Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology), Jo Johnson MP (Minister for Universities and Science) and Yvonne Fovargue MP (Shadow Minister for Science and Consumer Affairs). After each session, the witnesses and delegates in the horseshoe changed.
Prior to the event, we had the opportunity to submit questions. On arrival I was thrilled to find out that I would be sitting in the horseshoe during the first session and asking one of my questions about the publication of negative results to the Government Chief Scientific Adviser. Sir Mark agreed that the publication of negative results is important and he hopes it will become more prevalent with open access and electronic publishing.
I was also interested to hear the witnesses’ opinion on the potential effect of “Brexit” on scientific research funding and the consequential status of the UK as an international scientific superpower. The discussions focused on the importance of the EU for the UK’s future research activities with participants highlighting the disproportionately large amount of EU grant funding the UK is awarded, the ease of collaboration and the ability to recruit from a pool of the best scientific minds across the EU.
A highlight of the day was a message from Major Tim Peake at the International Space Station, the first time that the International Space Station has addressed Parliament. Tim responded to questions posed by Jo Johnson MP and Nicola Blackwood MP, discussing his research on the effect of the ageing process in space and the importance of space exploration for future generations. He predicted that ‘in the not too distant future, human space flight will become as routine as commercial aviation is today’. The video is available to watch.
The day was very informative and provided me with an insight into the intricacies of the problems faced by politicians, as well as the role of a Select Committee hearing for evidence-based policy making. I would like to thank the Royal Society for selecting me to represent them and the Royal Society of Biology for organising the event.