Biosciences and Brexit

Opinion piece by Debs Roebuck, PhD Researcher Drug Delivery Systems CASE with MedImmune at Imperial College London and former BBSRC Science Policy Fellow at the Royal Society of Biology.

With membership of the European Union (EU) soon to be decided by voters in a UK in/out EU referendum, pro-and anti-EU campaigners are making their opinions heard. David Cameron has outlined his requests for EU reform and negotiations will take place prior to the referendum, widely expected to take place in 2016, well ahead of the 2017 deadline.

So what is the relevance to the bioscience sector? The Royal Society of Biology (RSB) has been gathering evidence in response to the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee inquiry looking at the Relationship between EU Membership and the effectiveness of Science, Research and Innovation in the UK. Four major themes were examined: funding, collaboration, regulation and scientific advice; to gauge the impact of EU membership felt by UK researchers. Read more »

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Actions for plant science in the UK

By Dr Sandy Knapp FRSB, head of the Plants Division of the Natural History Museum, London

Plant science has a broad reach – from molecules to ecosystems, and from blue skies to near-market research and practical applications. The UKPSF was formed to bring the plant science sector together and to harness the power of our community to map out a future for plant sciences in the UK that ensures its continued growth and innovation, while fostering its key underpinning role in economic growth and helping the nation meet its needs and obligations.

The report UK Plant Science: current status and future challenges, published in 2013, highlighted key areas for community coalescence and innovation. Four working groups were convened to further explore and identify actions in the priority areas of:

1) Training and Skills (chaired by Simon Leather from Harper Adams University)
2) Funding (chaired by Julian Ma from St. George’s Hospital Medical School)
3) Translation (chaired by Belinda Clark from Agri-Tech East)
4) Regulation (chaired by Huw Jones from Rothamsted Research). Read more »

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Escape to the rainforest

By Fergus Kennedy, Royal Society of Biology travel grant recipient

The Danum Valley Field Centre is nestled on the fringe of Danum Valley Conservation Area, one of the largest areas of protected lowland dipterocarp rainforest in Malaysian Borneo. To the east is secondary regenerated forest, and to the west is ancient primary forest, both home to diverse and characteristic flora and fauna. I spent 10 days living and working at the field centre in September 2015, taking part in a field course on tropical ecology as part of my second year undergraduate course in biological sciences at the University of Oxford.

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Lords recommend field trial for GM insects

By Jackie Caine, policy manager at the British Ecological Society. This blog was originally posted on the British Ecological Society blog.

Aedes aegypti mosquito. Image: Sanofi Pasteur

In December, while the British Ecological Society was busy at our Annual Meeting in Edinburgh, the Lords Science and Technology Select Committee published their report on GM Insects, an inquiry to which the BES submitted written evidence from our members, and was invited to present a witness, BES President Professor Sue Hartley, who gave evidence on public perception and engagement.

The BES doesn’t take a position on whether GM technology is ‘good or bad’, rather we are interested in how ecological science can help us understand more about both the risks and benefits of emerging technologies. We want to ensure that the public, and our members, are aware of what the science can tell us, and how interdisciplinary research – bringing together ecology with social sciences and ethical considerations, can provide holistic, evidence informed policy making.

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Bovine TB – should we kill the badgers?

Opinion piece by Professor Nigel Brown FRSB, President of the Microbiology Society.

The control of bovine TB (bTB) in farm animals is complex. We have heard a lot about the role of badgers as a reservoir of bTB, which is then transmitted to cattle. This is the argument for culling badgers and several trials have taken place. Badger culling is an issue that raises passions on both sides – farmers who want to protect their cattle and naturalists who wish to protect the badgers. This article addresses only a few of the complex issues. As a scientific colleague puns, the evidence is not black and white! Read more »

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Tackling the underrepresentation of women in science

By Dr Zenobia Lewis, Senior Lecturer and Co-Chair for University of Liverpool Institute of Learning and Teaching Athena SWAN Team

As many in the Higher Education community are aware, the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) Athena Swan Charter has been a driving force supporting women in science in the UK for the past decade. The Charter was set up in 2005, and received worldwide attention in 2010 when Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for England, announced that the National Institute for Health Research planned to make it a requirement that academic departments hold a Silver level Athena SWAN Award to be able to apply for funding from them. Read more »

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Teaching: first resort or last resort?

Chris Waterman

By Ben Connor, Policy Officer, British Ecological Society

Does the UK Government have a joined up strategy for teacher recruitment and training? According to Chris Waterman, speaking at the recent Education Policy Lunchbox, the simple answer is ‘no’. Waterman, the former Executive Director of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), whose educational experience includes work as a teacher, commentator and consultant, argued that this lack of strategy is leading to serious problems for schools and the teaching profession.

Under the Coalition Government, and continued by the new Conservative administration, the system of teacher training and education in the UK has undergone radical change. From a situation where teacher education was dominated by universities, schools have assumed centre stage. Roughly 50% of new teachers are now trained ‘on-the job’ in schools, through Teach First, which places 1,500 high achieving graduates in challenging schools, and the much larger scale and rapidly expanding School Direct. Read more »

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SOS: Support Our Scientists – Science is still vital

By Deborah Roebuck MRSB, BBSRC policy fellow at the Royal Society of Biology.

Supporters of Science rallied together at the most recent Science is Vital event, held in London and broadcast live online. Scientists and non-scientists were united in their campaign to promote awareness and highlight the critical importance of upholding a strong UK science base in the light of the upcoming Spending Review.

An impressive line-up, including the likes of Simon Singh, Adam Rutherford and Greg Foot, contributed to a team of prominent campaigners, spanning scientific disciplines across research, broadcasting, policy and the charity sector. Speakers took to the stage, engaging the audience and delivering a dynamic evening of scientific fact, demonstrating the true impact of science and why it is vital. Read more »

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Choosing between ‘life’ or research – survey data shows the outlook is good for returners

By Dr Indrayani Ghangrekar, fellowship advisor at the Daphne Jackson Trust

Currently, academic researchers in science, technology, engineering, and maths (the STEM subjects) face a life of fierce competition for grants from a limited budget resulting in anxiety about career progression. This happens despite the recognition that investing in STEM research is beneficial for the UK’s economy and world standing as a ‘science superpower’.

Adding to career anxiety is that sometimes, even the most well-laid plans can get disrupted by ‘life’ – unplanned events such as ill health, or a loved one requiring care, which can require a career break for men or women. Additionally, many women still have to make a choice between starting a family and having a career. Read more »

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