By Dr Supatra Marsh, BBSRC Policy Fellow at the Society of Biology
At a Science and Technology Committee meeting last week, Chair Andrew Miller MP introduced the new Minister for Universities, Science and Cities, Rt Hon Greg Clark MP as having ‘the best job in government’.
Greg Clark spoke passionately about his desire to ‘bring the whole of government together rather than getting involved in erecting boundaries’ and said that ‘it is usually to the disadvantage of the country when we operate in silos’.
As a PhD student this particularly resonated with me; in scientific research there is an increasing focus on the importance of interdisciplinary collaborations. We have made great progress but there is still a way to go. The Minister said that increasing opportunities for interdisciplinary research is an imperative part of the new science and innovation strategy; ‘breakthroughs and insights cannot be contained by particular disciplines’.
The new science and innovation strategy was of particular interest to the committee. The Minister didn’t reveal many details, but said that it will take a 10 year forward look and therefore should withstand political contention and command the respect of all parties. This is somewhat reassuring given the fast approaching election and the limited time the Minister has to make an impact – it is important that the next government will be able to carry this forward.
I think that if we are to build on science excellence in the UK, we also need to engage and inspire young people in order to encourage a range of people with different backgrounds to enter science careers. The Minister agreed, saying that science does not start at university, A level or even GCSE age, and that this will be reflected in the strategy. The Minister also emphasised his priority to diversify university leadership, at the recent Biology Week Parliamentary Reception.
Graham Stringer MP ended the session with a question taken from Charles Percy Snow, Baron Snow Kt. CBE, who said ‘to be educated you need to know the second law of thermodynamics’. The Minister responded by saying ‘he will not be tempted down that path’. Amusingly, Andrew Miller MP mentioned that his granddaughter can recite a nursery rhyme about the laws of thermodynamics at the age of four – does this mean UK science education and engagement is improving? Let’s hope so.