This year I had the honour of being invited by Hetan Shah (RSS executive director) to the Parliamentary Links Day 2017 to represent the RSS as both a young statistician and an official statistics practitioner. This prestigious annual event is organised by the Royal Society of Biology and brings together the scientific community and members of parliament. RSS statistical ambassador and PhD student at MRC Biostatistics Unit in Cambridge, Susan Connolly, also attended on behalf of the RSS. The theme of this year’s event was ‘UK science and global opportunities’.
Representatives from learned societies, academia and scientific professional bodies were welcomed to Parliament by Stephen Metcalfe MP, the former chair of the Science and Technology Select Committee. Speakers included John Kingman (chair designate of UK Research & Innovation), Jo Johnson (universities and science minister) and House of Commons speaker John Bercow, who all talked about their vision for UK science, the challenges we face and the way forward in addressing them. Themes touched upon were education and funding for scientific research, as well as the main theme of the day.
Two panel discussions chaired by BBC science correspondent Pallab Ghosh focused on ‘Science in Europe’ and ‘Science in the world’, featuring views from John Holman (Royal Society of Chemistry president), Sarah Main (director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering), Roberto Di Lauro and Lorenzo Melchor (respective Science Attachés for the Embassies of Italy and Spain) and Chi Onwurah MP, as well as Jocelyn Bell Burnell (president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh) and Malcolm Brinded (chair of the Royal Academy of Engineering and EngineeringUK).
The first panel discussion focused on the continued uncertainty around the impacts of Brexit on scientific research in the UK, with the Science Attachés for the Embassies of Italy and Spain presenting discouraging statistics which suggested that large proportions of both Italian and Spanish nationals working in UK academia are considering relocating to elsewhere in the European Union; the discussion addressed ways that the UK can seek to retain such talent.
In the second panel discussion, Jocelyn Bell Burnell called upon the scientific community to strengthen their links and extend their support to their European colleagues as much as this is currently done for international colleagues outside the EU. She added that there is nothing preventing us from networking with our European colleagues and reinforcing the UK’s reputation as a welcoming and prestigious place to pursue a scientific career – a message that received a spontaneous round of applause from the packed room.
The event was followed by a lunch at the House of Lords, where Alex Halliday (VP of the Royal Society) gave a final keynote speech with allusions to Robert M Pirsig’s popular 1970s philosophical novel ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’.
It was a pleasure to meet distinguished colleagues from across the scientific community in the heart of London. The day was an inspiration to us all to use our influence as scientists to encourage young inquisitive minds and pursue opportunities for scientific progress in the face of challenging circumstances.
Daria Gromyko works at HMRC and is secretary of the RSS Official Statistics Section. She is also a member of the RSS’s newly established YSS Network.