Early career physicists learn how to influence policy at Newton’s Apple seminar

22 October 2014

A plea to early career researchers to try to influence public policy was made in a seminar organised by science policy foundation Newton’s Apple and hosted by the IOP at its London centre.

Newton’s Apple

At the event on 16 October an audience composed mainly of early career researchers in industry and academia heard an overview of how government works and the points at which influence can be brought to bear.

Newton’s Apple chairman Michael Elves, former special adviser to the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee, explained some of the structures of government and parliament including select committees, chief scientific advisers in government departments and the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology. By a show of hands he elicited the fact that very few of the audience members could name their MPs. He urged scientists to respond much more to policy consultations and to play an active part in shaping policy.

Amanda Dickins, deputy chief scientific adviser at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, also underlined the need for the scientific community to interact with politicians in policymaking. Explaining her role as a civil servant, she said she worked at the interface between scientists and those inside government and described her own career path as a humanities graduate who now worked in the arena of science policy.

The seminar also heard from former MPs Ian Gibson, a former chair of the Science and Technology Select Committee, and Brian Iddon, who had previously served on the committee. The IOP’s senior policy manager, Alex Connor, spoke about the role of learned societies, such as the IOP, in science policy. This encompassed both science for policy (i.e. evidence-based policymaking) and policy for science, such as funding, education issues and research priorities.

He outlined some of the IOP’s recent campaigns, its partnerships with other bodies and its channels of influence such as reports, meetings and engagement with key politicians and policymakers. He said: “Our expertise comes from our membership and we rely on them for our impact.”

During a question and answer session, several audience members said that they would like to be more involved with policy but were under considerable time pressures as postdocs. There was, however, considerable interest in science policy as a full-time career.