Hearing the Voice of the Future

 

On Wednesday 15th March, five of our ECS members travelled to Westminster to represent SfAM at the RSB-organised Voice of the Future event. Set in the middle of British Science Week, this unique Q&A session gave young researchers and students the chance to grill MPs and government officials on science and engineering policy. Our policy officer, Chris, reports on the day.

 

Raring to go

Spurred on by a brilliantly sunny morning, the mood in Portcullis House was one of excitement as scientists and engineers alike prepared to question the impressive roster of panel members:

Representatives took it in turns throughout the day to sit at the “horseshoe” table, taking over the seats of power usually occupied by MPs during their evidence gathering sessions. From this lofty position, the Voice of the Future directed questions to the panel opposite.

Horseshoe

.

Space is the place (but so is Europe)

The topics discussed throughout the day were as broad as you would imagine from an event attempting to cover all of science and engineering, but a few prominent themes came to the fore. As you would imagine, the implications of Brexit for science policy weighed heavily on the minds of those present, many of whom were EU nationals from outside the UK who have invested time and effort into advancing science in the UK. One of our representatives, Anton, asked:

“Will we expect a large change in UK legislation on genetic engineering, cloning and animal experimentation once the UK leaves the EU?”

Anton

Sir Mark Walport fielded the question by highlighting the heavy influence the UK has had in developing domestic and international regulations in these areas, voicing his confidence that the UK will remain to “regulate well” in the future.

However, the number of Brexit-related questions reflected the fact that the STEMM community’s younger members sorely desire more certainty from the Government on the prospects for science funding and international mobility.

Doom and gloom did not dominate the day though, not least due to the injection of excitement in the room brought by a question on commercial spaceflight in the UK. It seems that if you want to capture an MP’s attention, bring space in to the conversation!

 

Breaking the resistance

Among the specific topics broached during the Sci & Tech Select Committee panel session, our ECS member Ricarda brought AMR into view:

“How well is the five-year antimicrobial resistance strategy being implemented? Has it been effective?”

Ricarda

Perhaps gratifyingly, the Select Committee members agreed that the issue of AMR remains a “high priority” for them, acknowledging that much more work remains to be done. In particular, the committee called for stronger public engagement – a challenge for government, politicians and the science community at large – and better progress in assessing the implications for agriculture.

 

Final thoughts

Overall, the day proved vastly successful in encouraging young researchers and students to see how seriously science is taken across the political landscape and to grasp the importance of maintaining the links between government, parliament and the scientific community. But don’t just take my word for it:

I found the day really enjoyable and it was great to be able to hear politicians talk about their views on key science issues. What struck me the most was the diversity of the questions being asked; they ranged from space programs to antibiotic resistance!

The panel session with the Science and Technology select committee gave an extra level of discussion and it taught me about how influential these MPs are in terms of keeping the interests of the scientific community at heart when advising other politicians.”

Jennie French, ECS Committee Member

 

Thanks to all our members who attended and to the RSB for organising VOF 2017. A full video of the Voice of the Future hearing is available on the parliamentlive.tv website. Photos provided courtesy of the RSB.

Chris Brown, SfAM Policy Officer



Categories: Early Career Scientists, Feature Articles, Policy, SfAM News

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