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Young Academy member questions MPs at Voices of the Future 2019

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Siobhán O’Connor, a Lecturer in Nursing Studies at the University of Edinburgh, represented the Young Academy of Scotland and the Royal Society of Edinburgh recently at Voices of the Future 2019. This event offered young research leaders the opportunity to discuss the future of science policy in the UK with senior political figures at the Houses of Parliament in Westminster.

The annual platform is organised by the Royal Society of Biology and provides early careers researchers with insights and influence into the policy translation process. They get to voice their questions and discuss burning scientific policy issues with key political figures. On 12th March 2019, the Voices of the Future event was held in Committee Room 14 at the Place of Westminster and streamed live on Parliament TV. This provided Siobhán and others young leaders in science from across the UK the chance to delve into the complexities of key policy issues.

The group were welcomed by Rt Hon John Bercow MP, Speaker of the House of Commons before a panel of MPs including Norman Lamb MP, Chair of the Science & Technology Select Committee, Vicky Ford MP, Stephen Metcalfe MP and Carol Monaghan MP, began the first session. Numerous questions were posed to the panel by the young scientists such as how to engage young people, particular women, in science and combat fake news and the impact of social media on public opinion and scientific knowledge.

Siobhán quizzed Chris Skidmore MP, Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, asking the question “How can the UK guarantee a strong research climate that attracts talented scientists post-Brexit?”. The minister responded highlighting a commitment to increase public and private investment in R&D and better collaboration with commonwealth and developing nations through a new Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) to bring top scientists to work across all regions of the UK.

Sir Patrick Vallance, Government Chief Scientific Adviser, and Chi Onwurah MP, Shadow Minister for Industrial Strategy, Science and Innovation, chaired other sessions and fielded policy questions including how to deal with climate change and single use plastics, to regulating emerging drone, artificial intelligence and genomic technologies like CRISPR that are driven by commercial interests and bringing about rapid change in society. Getting to experience the inner workings of the UK Parliament and speaking to key decision makers will enable the young scientific leaders who participated in Voices of the Future 2019 to develop their professional careers and ensure they know how to influence science policy for the future.

Article contributed by Siobhán O'Connor

Photo courtesy of the Royal Society of Biology.

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Ruth is Medical Research Council Fellow at the University of St Andrews. Her research interests lie in developing in host mathematical models for infectious diseases.

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