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Talking science policy and Trump politics at this year’s Voice of the Future

Posted by on March 23, 2017

By Greg Satchell, BSc (Hons) MRSC MRSB ACSFS, junior forensic scientist for Thames Valley Police and representative for the RSB at this year’s Voice of the Future

Having only ever walked past Parliament on a number of occasions, never had I thought that I would be sitting in the Boothroyd Room, conversing with senior members of Government discussing some of the biggest science policy topics.

As if this wasn’t a new-enough experience in itself, being fortunate enough represent the Royal Society of Biology for this year’s Voice of the Future, on behalf of other young and up-and-coming scientists and engineers, was something of a privilege.

After registering and walking into in one of the many side rooms, it dawned on me that I wasn’t the only one and found myself in the middle of multiple discussions with fellow representatives from other associated bodies, sharing our experiences and working backgrounds. With everyone being as intrigued and excited to be there as everyone else, we were ushered into the Boothroyd room awaiting the arrival of the multiple MPs about to be questioned, by us!

Greg, representing the Royal Society of Biology, poised and ready to ask questions

Session one began with Chi Onwurah MP, the Shadow Minister for Industrial Strategy, Science and Innovation, who answered questions ranging from renewable energy to the science policies of the Trump administration.

Diversity also became a big topic in this first session, with Onwurah commenting: “there are opportunities for science and technology to become more diverse, to reflect the societies they represent.”

Other lines of inquiry included the amount of women in science, and keeping the invitation to oversees scientists open.

Second in the chair was Sir Mark Walport, UK Government Chief Scientific Advisor (GCSA) and recently appointed chief executive of UKRI.

After introducing himself with his distinguished CV, I was fortunate enough to open the session with my question regarding the potential development of new and existing police forensic scientists, despite continuing budgetary cuts.

Alongside this, Walport then talked about science publishing and regulation, post-Brexit. On a personal level, it was encouraging to learn, as a forensic practitioner, that due to the UK’s influence on EU standardisation, we as a nation are well-placed to continue this once Article 50 has been and gone and we move into a non-EU way of living.

With a few questions being raised regarding the promotion of scientific careers, an interesting thought provoking speech from Walport outlined that we, as young scientists and engineers, need to put ourselves out there and do our part in nurturing and encouraging young school children to take up science from an early age.

The third session invited Jo Johnson MP, the Minister of State for universities, science, research and innovation. Naturally, the subject of Brexit came up again in many of the questions, as well as immigration (with regards to students coming to the UK to study the sciences). However, Johnson was adamant that the government “values our European partners… and that we hope collaborations continue in years to come.”

Jo Johnson MP answering questions from representatives

The final session was with Stephen Metcalfe MP and members of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee. Enquiries began with questions relating to artificial intelligence (and the potential future of Spaceflight and travel), and then continuing to more “down to earth” topics relating to working relationships between politicians and scientists and the financial and social compromises being faced with regards to evidence based policy making.

Having the opportunity to not only attend, but also to be nominated to speak directly with the GCSA, and members of the select committee is such a privilege to have experienced so early on in my forensic career. I would like to thank the Royal Society of Biology for presenting me with the opportunity to do. Very few people in my position ever get this opportunity, so being able to represent the RSB on behalf of scientists in my field is definitely a milestone in my career.

If there is one thing that I can say to any young scientist – whether they are members of the Society or not – please look out for this event in the future. And do consider being a member of RSB; you’ll learn many skills, and there are so many networking opportunities. Take advantage of them!

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