“Science can play a critical role in decision-making and implementation of important policies. Effective communication of the research outcomes is imperative to ensure that misinterpretation of conclusions is avoided.”
These are the words of Dr Abbie Trewin, a Royal Society University Research Fellow at the Department of Chemistry, The University of Liverpool and participant in last year’s Pairing Scheme – which pairs a scientist with either an MP or civil servant, organised and supported by the Royal Society.
She explains why she signed up: “Often cultural differences between people working in different fields can be a barrier. This scheme is an opportunity to spend time in a different working environment allowing both the MP or Civil servant and the Scientist a chance to experience a different perspective. I would like to understand the issues surrounding the decision-making processes that lie behind the governmental policies, and, in the process, allows an understanding of an academic life for an MP or Civil servant.”
The scheme aims to help MPs and civil servants establish longstanding links with practising research scientists and to help research scientists understand political decision making and its associated pressures.
Abbie was paired with Andrew Miller MP, Chair of the House of Commons Science & Technology Select Committee. He is a long-term participant in the scheme, having taken part regularly since 2004. Abbie kept a diary of her ‘Week in Westminster’ and some of the observations she made along the way:
“Managed to get into the Public gallery in the House of Commons to watch the debate on the Justice Bill. Fascinating to see the rowdy, boisterous nature of the debate. Debating is a skill that most people never learn, which is a shame, as I think it is actually quite important to be able to support your viewpoint within a discussion. Anyway, got to see the Division and subsequent vote. Saw all the big names, for example, Gordon Brown, Jack Straw, Ken Clarke (obviously), and David Blunkett (with his dog!).
I watched the procession of the Serjeant (not a spelling mistake!) at arms, the Speaker of the House, and the famous Mace. Very funny when the police cry out “hats off strangers” – which I presume means the public (known as strangers) must remove their hats to show respect to the Speaker. Prime Ministers Question time (PMQs) was an amazing experience. We were sat relatively near the front in the Public Gallery. I could see both sides of the house and the buzz in the gallery when the politicians started filing into the House was electrifying. All I can say about it was how theatrical it was, with both sides combating to score points and get the best sound bites. I’m not sure it’s the best way to conduct serious business but as a piece of theatre it was spectacular!”