Creating champions: Physiology in elite sport

By Kim Murray, Great Britain skeleton athlete, @KimMurray88

I decided to be a sports scientist aged 13. It only struck me quite recently that this was quite a young age to settle on a career. I’d been identified as a talented athlete in the South and was selected to attend a training camp where a workshop introduced me to the concept of sports science. The idea that you could work to help athletes be faster, stronger, fitter, that you could be a part of their team, really hooked me. At that point, my ‘team’ consisted of me and my coach; I didn’t know there could be more.

Although I didn’t yet know about the various areas of sports science, after that day I set out to learn more to make this career path happen. It was during my placement year at the University of Bath that I chose to specialise in physiology. I loved the physicality of exercise testing: seeing athletes push themselves to incredible physiological limits. I am generally fascinated by the human body and liked the tangible nature of physiology compared to psychology for instance.

I craved the high-performance end of sport science. I, myself was competing at national and international competitions in the long jump and felt the most affinity with helping athletes at the top of their game, trying to find an extra couple of percent.

Helping athletes achieve their best

Six months after I graduated from my Masters at Loughborough University, I started working as a junior exercise physiologist at the sportscotland institute of sport. For the first time, I was part of a team of experts working to improve performance. I enjoyed the collaboration, learning from my colleagues and trying to answer the questions asked to make a performance impact. The work was very varied and I got to experience a lot of sports, national governing bodies, coaches and athletes. After a year or so I applied for an exercise physiologist role and graduated from my junior position, allowing me to lead physiology support in several sports. Highlights included being on camp with Scottish Rowing and working in the prep camp and village for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. I felt like I could deliver the biggest impact when working in an integrated way as part of a performance team.

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Testing in the lab in Stirling. I’m with a colleague, Julie Erskine, and cross-country ski athlete Callum Smith. source: sportscotland

Every day was different. I utilised many aspects of exercise physiology to best support the coaches and athletes I was involved with. With athletics, there was a lot of work with the endurance group around altitude and exercise testing. The rowers who were students needed more education on hydration and recovery strategies as well as training monitoring in a camp environment. There were several female athlete projects focussed on athlete health and wellbeing. I ran an extensive project collecting GPS and heart rate data on the netball team to gather up-to-date information on match intensities and demands, and to inform training. The team also filled in wellness and training dairies which I monitored, intervening when appropriate to flag fatigue. All the data I collected was relayed to the multidisciplinary teams within each sport, the coaches and the athletes as appropriate to solve performance questions and positively impact the performance of the athletes or team.

Following the Olympic dream

I had my dream job, but I wasn’t entirely content. Seeing and working with, sometimes even being a part of the success of the athletes and teams brought with it a desire to play the athlete again. There is a buzz you get as a member of the support team but I wanted to know that buzz having delivered the performance myself. In 2014 I trialled for #powertopodium, a UK Sport and British Skeleton talent identification search for ‘the next Lizzy Yarnold, Olympic skeleton champion’. Lured in by the possibility of realising that Olympic dream, I thought it would be a good opportunity, although I didn’t have high hopes!

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After six months of physical testing, competing against 1000 other skeleton wannabes, I got selected for the fourth and final phase and went out on ice for the first time. This was the start of my transition to the ‘other side’. I now work with my own support team, and I’m currently training for the Beijing Olympics in 2022. Becoming the athlete has brought its share of challenges and a new mindset, but the physiologist in me remains curious about the behind the scenes.


Check back next week for the Part 2 of Kim’s blog.

Europhysiology 2018: What’s in it for early career researchers

By Yvoni Kyriakidou, University of Westminster

As an early career researcher, presenting part of my PhD at Europhysiology 2018 will not only provide me with an opportunity to share my research, but it will also help me meet people in related fields to exchange information and expand my network. As this meeting will bring together some of the biggest physiological societies in Europe, I look forward to discussing work from many other institutions across the world. I hope to gain critical feedback on my work from the experts.

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I am currently a Doctoral Researcher in Bradley Elliott’s team, who is the leader of the Translational Physiology Research Group at the University of Westminster, London. I am studying the physiological pathways that lead to decreased performance and how these can be affected or induced by performing specific exercise protocols. My research also explores how ageing affects muscle function, human performance and health. Furthermore, I am investigating the impact of different nutritional strategies on offsetting this.

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This well-established conference is also an opportunity to learn more about the latest techniques and developments in the field of exercise physiology. I can also develop science communication strategies with other experts who also want to increase the impact of our research and inform the general public. Finally, at this interdisciplinary event, I will learn about different career pathways.

Europhysiology 2018 will provide me with extra motivation to gain deeper knowledge for and beyond my PhD journey.


By Pardeep Pabla, University of Nottingham

Europhysiology 2018 will be the biggest joint-society meeting that I have attended so far. As a young scientist, I always look forward to seeing the biggest names in our field present high quality science. It helps to put into perspective exactly what it takes to have a career in science, but it also serves as a timely reminder of how rewarding such a career can be.

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The coming together of experienced and enthusiastic academics with young, and equally enthusiastic, early career scientists alwaysprovides excellent opportunities to network, share ideas and gain new insights into each other’s work.

When possible, I try to steal a few moments of time from some of the more senior researchers and have found them very forthcoming with their advice and knowledge. I find that these moments help renew the excitement and enthusiasm I have for my research, qualities I believe are essential to longevity and success in an academic career.

I also greatly appreciate (and am guilty of taking for granted in the past) just how many opportunities these societies provide for early career researchers to showcase their work, and to witness new and emerging methodologies in physiology.

Having been a member of The Physiological Society for some time now, I can gladly say that I have made some friends along the way whom I look forward to catching up with at Europhysiology 2018. It is great to share stories from the lab and we always find some comfort in knowing that others share the same day-to-day challenges; the empathy that only fellow researchers can provide is warmly welcomed. A great thing about networking and talking to others is the realisation that our work utilises an extremely broad range of techniques and methodologies. Consequently, the wider impact of our work is astounding.

From a personal point of view, I am looking forward to the atmosphere of a big meeting. There is often a sense of excitement around these meetings, balanced with a welcoming and relaxed vibe.

 

Experience intellectual, social and cultural London: Europhysiology 2018

By Dan Brayson, King’s College London, @DrDanBrayson

Join us in London for Europhysiology 2018 to experience all sides of London’s metropolitan lifestyle – intellectual, social and cultural!

The esteemed poet and writer Samuel Johnson wrote in 1777, “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” As a current resident I must confess it is as true today as it was 241 years ago.

The reasons for this are many. From the perspective of intellectuality, I find, as an academic researcher, that London is a melting pot of so much excellent research and innovation. I am a researcher at King’s College London and the fact that we share the city with Imperial College, University College London, Queen Mary University and the newly minted Francis Crick institute, means that I constantly find myself able to attend symposia and forums during evenings and weekends, more than you could wave the proverbial stick at.

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These have enabled me to observe all of the excellence occurring at the frontier of scientific research as well as broaden my appreciation of what can be achieved as a person of science in any capacity and helped me to meet people who have done things a little differently. My post-doctoral funding runs out in six months, and I don’t have anything concrete planned, yet I am relaxed about my situation because of these experiences and interactions.

With regards to sociality, London indeed has all that life can afford. There are thousands of metaphorical and literal drinking vessels to enjoy, many of which have quirks (or “USPs” for the jargon inclined). These include places to dance and drink, take part in immersive theatre and drink, play ping pong and drink, even stand on a boat and drink. Whether you prefer the razzmatazz of cocktails or the seedy drinking holes which hark back to a bygone era, London has it all. London also has a surprisingly large number of green spaces if you just wanna hangout in the sunshine (but don’t forget to bring an umbrella).

Perhaps London is most famous for its culture. London is densely packed with small venues which on any given day of the week will be showcasing live music, comedy acts, poets, players and writers. The same is true on a grander scale (if you like Coldplay or One Direction…). If you need a fix of Andrew Lloyd-Webber, the West End is your tonic as it shows a constant stream of the most famous musicals you’ve ever heard of.

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Museums are plentiful. The British Museum plays host to the Rosetta Stone and contains thousands of other archaeological artefacts (the good kind of artefact), the Science Museum is worth a look in (predictably) but the jewel in the crown is the Natural History Museum. There are the impressive buildings, many are a historic legacy to a founding member of the Royal Society, Christopher Wren, who by accounts, single-handedly re-designed London after the great fire of 1666. Monument is a personal favourite of mine since it was an attempt to build the largest telescope to date in collaboration with Robert Hooke, another founding member of the Royal Society. Did I mention that the Royal Society was founded in London with Isaac Newton installed as its first president?

Europhysiology 2018 will be hosted on the backdrop of Big Ben (currently under refurbishment) and Westminster Abbey, both fascinating and imposing structures sitting right next to the River Thames. The latter is a place of burial for historic figures of esteem which include scientists Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, and Stephan Hawking as well as someone who, by reasoning, must have grown tired of London eventually, Samuel Johnson.

Bringing together physiologists from around the world: Europhysiology 2018

In the last two decades physiology events have been challenged by evolving sub-disciplinary and thematic conferences. The Europhysiology series of conferences will bring together the broader European physiology community and promote collaboration among scientists.

‘I am really looking forward to this exciting Europhysiology meeting being able to discuss and networks with colleagues from our European neighbours and hear about the ground breaking research being performed outside of the UK,’ says Charlotte Haigh from the University of Leeds, UK.

The partner Societies value our future leaders in physiology research and so it was critical to find out their opinion of why such a meeting of European physiologists would benefit them.  We asked our Affiliate Working Group what they feel that they will be of most use to them.

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A major reason for attending such an event is to foster new collaborative ventures with physiologists from across Europe.  It was strongly felt that in this climate of interdisciplinary research, such a meeting would increase the capacity to tackle complex problems by promoting new research collaborations.

‘When I heard about the opportunity to present as an early career speaker at Europhysiology, I knew this was a great way to share some of the data that our lab collected in the past few years,’ Cas Fuch from Maastricht University, Netherlands told Physiology News.

Interestingly, our early career scientists feel that they are more likely to know who is carrying out research similar to them in the USA rather than Europe and such a meeting would introduce them to researchers and techniques that they were not aware of previously.

It would mean that they could learn how others approach specific research questions and then they could input into these or perhaps change their approaches in the future.  It also opens up new career opportunities.

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Indeed early career researchers are also less aware of European differences in career structure and so such a meeting would allow them to probe these differences.  Since Brexit and issues surrounding UK research funding from Europe cannot be totally ignored, it was also considered important to consider how future research collaborations can be worked at this stage.

The structure of the meeting was also very attractive to ECRs with over 100 slots for oral communications; they feel that this is wonderful opportunity to showcase their research.

It is clear that all levels of physiologist are looking forward to this meeting of scientific minds but it is especially rewarding to know how highly our “future physiologists” rate such an opportunity to attend such conferences.

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‘For me the conference will be a fantastic opportunity to meet colleagues and friends, to enjoy science in different talks and poster presentations. Discovering new advancements and ideas in the different fields of physiology it will be an opportunity to strengthen already exciting friendships and to make new ones,’ Anaclet Ngezahayo from Leibniz University Hannover, Institute of Biophysics, Germany.

The series will begin in London, UK in 2018 and will subsequently be organised in Berlin, Germany (2020) and Copenhagen, Denmark (2022). FEPS will be a joint organiser of these biennial conferences.

(This article was originally published in Physiology News 110, pg. 19)

Can ketones lower blood sugar, and thus help diabetes?

By Jonathan Little (@DrJonLittle) and Étienne Myette-Côté, University of British Columbia

Low-carbohydrate, high-fat ketogenic diets are gaining popularity as a treatment option for type 2 diabetes because when someone eats less carbohydrates their blood sugar remain low. The diet is named after ketone bodies, compounds that the body produces when someone restricts their carbohydrate intake to very low levels.

Now, new ketone supplements that come in liquid or powder form claim to offer some of the benefits of a ketogenic diet without having to follow such a strict diet. Essentially, they allow you to drink ketones instead of relying on your body to produce them naturally. The appeal is obvious: lifestyle interventions like a ketogenic diet are hard to stick to over the long term. However, these supplements are also interesting for us physiologists because when someone eats a ketogenic diet, so many metabolic changes happen at the same time that it’s difficult to pinpoint which change caused which effect. Using ketone supplements can allow us to study the effects of ketones specifically.

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Image from- https://www.prevention.com/food-nutrition/a20483336/keto-diet-facts/

Unfortunately there is very little research on ketone supplements, particularly their impact on blood sugar or outcomes relevant to diabetes. To begin to fill this gap in knowledge, our recent research in The Journal of Physiology studied the effect of ketone supplements in healthy adults.

Introducing the ketone star: β-OHB

The most abundant and important ketone body produced by the liver during a ketogenic diet is called beta-hydroxybutyrate (β-OHB). β-OHB can be used as an alternative fuel to carbohydrates by some parts of the body including the brain, heart and muscles. In recent years, β-OHB has garnered substantial media and research attention: studies in cells and animals have shown that β-OHB has glucose lowering, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and even lifespan-extending effects (1, 2, 3, 4).

In humans, it is difficult to determine the effects of β-OHB itself due to the myriad of physiological and hormonal changes that occur when somebody follows a restrictive ketogenic diet. The first answers come from studies where researchers have infused ketones directly into the blood of participants – like with a drip feed. Several of these studies conducted over the last few decades have consistently observed that when you infuse β-OHB directly into the bloodstream of humans, their blood sugar drops (5, 6).

Although the infusion method provides insight, it lacks therapeutic application: it would be impractical to keep patients with diabetes on a ketone drip in an attempt to lower their glucose. With the blood sugar-lowering effects of β-OHB infusion having been consistently observed in the past, we became interested in studying whether the newly-developed ketone supplements might lower blood sugar levels in humans.

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It would be impractical to keep patients with diabetes on a ketone drip.

Do ketone supplements lower blood sugar in humans?

Given that this was the first study (to our knowledge) to directly test this, we started by studying young healthy individuals. We recruited 20 healthy participants (10 males and 10 females, aged between 21 and 29 years) who underwent two oral glucose tolerance tests. This test involves drinking a large quantity of sugar (pure glucose) and measuring blood sugar at several time points afterwards to assess changes in blood sugar level. This test can also be used to diagnose diabetes.

One oral glucose tolerance test was performed 30 minutes following the consumption of the ketone supplement and one was performed after consuming a masked placebo. The order was random – some took the ketone supplement first and some the placebo first – and both the participants and study personnel performing the laboratory analyses were blinded, meaning that they did not know whether the participant had taken the ketone supplement or placebo.

The ketone supplement raised blood β-OHB to just over 3 mM within 30 min, levels normally seen after many weeks on a ketogenic diet or several days of fasting. This suggests that the supplements might be a good method to get β-OHB into the blood, without the hassle of a drip. When we then looked at the spike in blood sugar in response to the oral glucose tolerance test, it was much lower after drinking the ketone supplement compared to the placebo condition. Specifically, when plotted on a graph the area under the curve was decreased by ~16% when participants had the ketone supplement. Additional metabolic benefits of the ketone supplement were a reduction in levels of fatty acids circulating in the blood and an improvement in insulin sensitivity. Thus, consuming a ketone supplement was able to improve aspects of glucose regulation in healthy humans.

This study in healthy humans raises the obvious question of whether the same effects could be seen in individuals with elevated blood sugar, such as individuals with type 2 diabetes, prediabetes, or obesity.

It is not clear if our results will carry over to people with these diseases. However, a major reason for high blood glucose in type 2 diabetes is that the liver is constantly “leaking” too much glucose into the circulation. If the ketone supplement prevents this, which is what we think happens, then ketone supplements might indeed be helpful for diabetes; it’s now up to future studies to build on our findings and hopefully find the answer!

References:

  1. Madison, L. L., Mebane, D., Unger, R. H., & Lochner, A. (1964). The hypoglycemic action of ketones. II. Evidence for a stimulatory feedback of ketones on the pancreatic beta cells. The Journal of clinical investigation, 43(3), 408-415.
  2. Youm, Y. H., Nguyen, K. Y., Grant, R. W., Goldberg, E. L., Bodogai, M., Kim, D., … & Kang, S. (2015). The ketone metabolite β-hydroxybutyrate blocks NLRP3 inflammasome–mediated inflammatory disease. Nature medicine, 21(3), 263.
  3. Shimazu, T., Hirschey, M. D., Newman, J., He, W., Shirakawa, K., Le Moan, N., … & Newgard, C. B. (2013). Suppression of oxidative stress by β-hydroxybutyrate, an endogenous histone deacetylase inhibitor. Science, 339(6116), 211-214.
  4. Edwards, C., Canfield, J., Copes, N., Rehan, M., Lipps, D., & Bradshaw, P. C. (2014). D-beta-hydroxybutyrate extends lifespan in C. elegans. Aging (Albany NY), 6(8), 621.
  5. Mikkelsen, K. H., Seifert, T., Secher, N. H., Grøndal, T., & van Hall, G. (2015). Systemic, cerebral and skeletal muscle ketone body and energy metabolism during acute hyper-D-β-hydroxybutyratemia in post-absorptive healthy males. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 100(2), 636-643.
  6. Miles, J. M., HAYMOND, M. W., & GERICH, J. E. (1981). Suppression of glucose production and stimulation of insulin secretion by physiological concentrations of ketone bodies in man. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 52(1), 34-37.
  7. Taggart, A. K., Kero, J., Gan, X., Cai, T. Q., Cheng, K., Ippolito, M., … & Jin, L. (2005). (D)-β-hydroxybutyrate inhibits adipocyte lipolysis via the nicotinic acid receptor PUMA-G. Journal of Biological Chemistry, 280(29), 26649-26652.
  8. Reaven, G. M., Chang, H. E. L. E. N., Ho, H. E. L. E. N., Jeng, C. Y., & Hoffman, B. B. (1988). Lowering of plasma glucose in diabetic rats by antilipolytic agents. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, 254(1), E23-E30.
  9. Ferrannini, E., Barrett, E. J., Bevilacqua, S., & DeFronzo, R. A. (1983). Effect of fatty acids on glucose production and utilization in man. The Journal of clinical investigation, 72(5), 1737-1747.
  10. Balasse, E. O., Ooms, H. A., & Lambilliotte, J. P. (1970). Evidence for a stimulatory effect of ketone bodies on insulin secretion in man. Hormone and Metabolic Research, 2(06), 371-372.
  11. Senior, B., & Loridan, L. (1968). Direct regulatory effect of ketones on lipolysis and on glucose concentrations in man. Nature, 219(5149), 83.

 

#LGBTSTEMDay: Celebrating the diversity of science

By Shaun O’Boyle, founder of House of STEM

Today is the first International Day of LGBT+ People in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths, celebrating and encouraging diversity in science.

We do better science when our teams are made up of diverse people, with different perspectives, skills, and ideas. To achieve that diversity, however, we must first remove the roadblocks that are causing some minorities to remain underrepresented in science.

These roadblocks can arise early. A recent study by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) found that 29% of LGBT+ young people choose to avoid a career in STEM because they fear discrimination. We know from research published in Science Advances that those who do enrol in STEM courses are more likely to drop out.

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Of those who do pursue a career in science, more than 40% are not ‘out’ to their colleagues, and this is having a negative impact on their career prospects. Remaining ‘in the closet’ also takes its toll on a person’s mental health, as they spend every single day monitoring, policing, and editing what they say and do. In the United States, one third of ‘out’ physicists have been told to stay in the closet to continue their career, and half of Trans physicists have experienced harassment in academia. We therefore need to work on the environments LGBT+ scientists work in, to make them more supportive and welcoming.

Take fieldwork, for example. For a scientist, field work can be dangerous—collecting samples near active volcanoes, gathering data in areas of conflict, risking insect-borne diseases while documenting species in the rainforest—and so we prepare as best we can to minimise those risks.

When an LGBT+ scientist is invited to do field work, we must first make sure it’s not to one of the 72 countries where it’s illegal to be LGBT+, or one of the eight where our identity carries the death penalty. Even in countries with no legal barriers, we must make sure that we are not going to a region with a high incidence of hate crime. These are complex risks to minimise. For example, we must make a choice about “coming out” to our colleagues—whether it is better to have their support, or if telling them risks us being accidentally outed on the trip.

LGBT+ scientists and our allies are working to ensure no one struggles to be themselves at work—whether it’s fieldwork or lab work, teaching or studying. Research initiatives such as Queer in STEM and the LGBT+ physical sciences climate survey are doing what scientists do best: gathering data. By having a clearer understanding of the experiences of LGBT+ scientists across different disciplines, we can develop supportive policies, and create more inclusive environments. Initiatives such as LGBTSTEM and 500 Queer Scientists are improving the visibility of LGBT+ scientists, helping to create role models for others in their fields.

Visibility is at the heart of a new initiative to amplify the voices of LGBT+ scientists around the world. Today is #LGBTSTEMDay, the first ever International Day of LGBT+ People in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. The initiative is being led by an international collaboration between four groups—Pride in STEM, House of STEM, InterEngineering, and Out in STEM—and supported by more than 40 organisations, including CERN, EMBL, Wellcome, and The Physiological Society.

#LGBTSTEMDay will see live events and get-togethers happen at physical locations from Brazil to Scotland, Toronto to Switzerland. Primarily, however, it will be an online campaign, and an opportunity to highlight the powerful work already being done by people, groups and organisations all around the world to advance the inclusion of LGBT+ people in STEM. We hope you’ll join us in celebrating the diversity of science.

Shaun O’Boyle is a science communicator and producer with a degree in Physiology and a PhD in Developmental Biology. He is the founder of House of STEM, a network of LGBT+ people who work in STEM in Ireland, and one of the organisers of LGBTSTEMDay.

Reflections on Parliamentary Links Day 2018

By Charlotte Haigh, University of Leeds, @LottieHaigh

I was very honoured to be invited to Parliamentary Links Day, by The Physiological Society on the 26th June. The theme this year was science and the industrial strategy. Being Yorkshire, born and bred and still living up north, you don’t often get these opportunities and I was very unsure what to expect.

After arriving early and going through security checks, I found myself in a packed room in Portcullis House ready for the start of the day. Although the event was organised by the Royal Society of Biology, 13 other societies were represented by banners at the event from across the breadth of science, technology, engineering and maths.

The morning session was filled with speakers including five MP’s, the Government Chief Scientific Advisor and a representative from UKRI. These speakers all pulled out key points of how the science and industrial strategy is aimed to be delivered and how increasing the funding of R&D in the UK wasn’t the only challenge. The speeches were broken up by two discussion panels of people from many of the represented societies talking about how they were contributing to influencing and delivering some of the key elements of the strategy.

It was made apparent at the start that not many MP’s are well-versed in science, and this is a problem. We need more scientists and engineers in the House of Commons. This surprised me at first but then on reflection, as scientists, not many of us would aim for that type of profession.

The Chair of the Science and Technology Select Committee, Norman Lamb MP, highlighted how important it is that we continue to get the best people to work in science in the UK. Government is currently working on a blueprint of the pact we need to agree on for science in the Brexit negotiations. I am sure many of us would support this.

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Dr Patrick Vallance, The Chief Scientific Advisor, speaking 

Many of the discussions we have been having in the higher education sector at present and for many years were highlighted and discussed. We need to nurture young talent from an early age, right from primary school. We must concentrate on achieving diversity in areas such as gender and ethnicity in all STEM areas, taking it seriously and not just paying lip service to it. We should value technical staff and give them opportunities to flourish. There was also a discussion raised by our own Andrew Mackenzie (Head of Policy and Communications) about the issue of 45% of public spend on R&D going to the golden triangle (Oxford/Cambridge/London) and how we need to focus on getting economic development to poorer regions of country.

So what are my reflections on this day? Well, it was interesting to hear all this and there were no surprises in what was said. Lots of challenges, but not many answers. Many of the discussion points raised resonate and are mentioned within The Physiological Society’s new 2018-2022 strategy which is great to see. Throughout the day, lifelong health (The Society’s policy focus) was mentioned, more than once, as one of the grand challenges for STEM going forward. I think being involved in a day like this is important for The Society and its members, to make the government aware who we are and what we do and promote what I hope is a two-way stream of communication between Government and the scientific community. It was great to hear that ‘scientists on the coal face must be supported’ but the cynic in me questions how the government can really achieve this.

If you wish to see anymore highlights of the event, visit the Royal Society of Biology Facebook page or search #LinksDay18 on Twitter.