The Royal Society pairing scheme – words from a past participant

“This scheme gives policymakers and research scientists an opportunity to experience each other’s worlds.”

I am a senior post doc at the University of East Anglia within Andrea Münsterberg’s lab. My research interests are to understand the molecular and cellular dynamics in embryonic musculoskeletal development. I became aware of the Royal Society Pairing Scheme via a colleague at the University of Liverpool. I am fully aware that scientists have to promote science and public engagement at all levels of their careers and I saw this as a great opportunity to engage with policymakers and learn more about how government truly works. I had already participated in outreach schemes with local schools, university open days and was also a post doc representative on the BBSRC  Bioscience Skills and Careers Strategy Advisory Panel for two years, but the Royal Society Pairing Scheme offered something completely different so I was keen to give it a try!

I applied to the scheme knowing it was very competitive, but I was hoping to be a post doc representative to the policymakers. This scheme allows post docs, fellows, lecturers, professors and industry scientists to spend a week in Westminster interacting with politicians and policymakers – giving scientists a greater understanding on how parliamentarians and civil servants work towards policies that affect the public. In return, your paired politician or civil servant gets an insight into the world of research by undertaking a reciprocal visit. Prior to my application, I emailed my local MP Clive Lewis asking if he’d kindly support my application to the Royal Society. Remarkably, he replied within minutes offering not just his support but also the chance to see him even if my application was unsuccessful. In my application, I acknowledged the need for better communication between scientists, policy makers and the general public. I also included in my application my passion for post docs to be heard and how isolated we can become.

To my amazement, my application was successful! So, I spent a week in Westminster interacting and networking with other scientists. The Royal Society put you up in a hotel on the Strand and within walking distance to the Houses of Parliament. The week was very well organised with workshops and hearing from invited speakers such as Prof Brian Cox OBE, Prof Venki Ramakrishnan (president of the Royal Society) and Jo Johnson MP (Minister for Universities and Science). I spent two days shadowing Clive Lewis MP at the Labour headquarters and briefly bumped into Jeremy Corbyn there! I was invited to sit in a select committee meeting on agricultural farming and then participate in a mock meeting on driverless vehicles in the UK. I would highly recommend this scheme to anyone who has interest in understanding the political side of science policies. I have to admit I was sceptical how much I would learn in an unfamiliar world but I now know how fundamental communication must be for scientists and policymakers to exist. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of trust between parties and that scientists have to open up their world to the public. Transparency is the key and our research should continuously be promoted to ensure trust is strengthened with the public. I cannot thank the Royal Society enough for the opportunity. I hope my short time with policymakers have made them understand the immense contributions post-doctoral scientists make and that we have a voice that should also be heard.

Gi Fay (Geoffrey) Mok

g.mok@uea.ac.uk

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