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.
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.