Voice of the Future

MPs and Science ministers get questioned by the audience.

PhD Student attends 'Voice of the Future' event in Parliament

On 4th March 2015, Sarah Duxbury, a second year PhD student in Biosciences, attended 'Voice of the Future 2015', a prestigious event organised by the Society of Biology where young scientists were selected to question MPs and science ministers on science policy issues in the Houses of Parliament in London, ahead of the General Election.

As a member of the Society for General Microbiology, Sarah was chosen as one of six to represent the society along with other young scientists aged 16-35 from over 15 professional societies including The Royal Society, Institute of Physics and Biochemical Society. This annual event is hosted by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee (STC) and is unique in that the structure of a Select Committee is reversed and young scientists occupy the seats of MPs whilst MPs take the witness seats to be grilled on science policy issues. Each attendee was selected based on the merit of their prior submitted questions; Sarah’s question asked whether the government planned to further address antifungal resistance given the severity and prevalence of invasive fungal disease, which is an integral concept of her research. The main aim of the event was to encourage young scientists to take an active role in engaging with MPs to raise awareness of the importance of science in policy making.

The event was organised into four sessions in which attendees sat around the ‘horseshoe’ seats within the Boothroyd Room of Portcullis House and questioned Sir Mark Walport (Government Chief Scientific Adviser), Andrew Miller and members of the STC, Liam Byrne and Greg Clark (Shadow Minister and Minister for Universities and Science).  The questions related to key themes of equality and diversity, science education/ careers and public engagement. Mark Walport recommended mentoring and careers support for early career researchers and longer fellowships that maximise the chance of successful scientific careers. He also stressed applicability of science education and training to other career paths. The STC recommended endorsement of the role of women in science through schools and that removal of funding blocks to diversity in research should occur via increased public expenditure through science councils. In addition, targets for gender equality should be set out in initiatives such as Athena SWAN to increase availability of female post-doctoral positions. The witnesses also highlighted a need for greater flexibility in the school curriculum to explore pupils’ interests in science, and to inspire public engagement through exploration and excitement.

Speaking after the event, Sarah commented,  “Voice of the Future was an excellent opportunity to learn about science in policy and the roles of the Science and Technology Committee. It was brilliant to experience a Select Committee meeting first-hand, in which MPs and science ministers discussed solutions and recommendations for policy making on topical scientific issues. I would highly recommend other PhD Students and young scientists with an interest in science communication or policy to apply for this event (through their societies) in future years and I would like to thank the Society for General Microbiology for funding my attendance.”

The event was broadcast live on the BBC Parliament channel and can be viewed in full on the STC website.

Date: 2 April 2015

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