Developing the next generation of scientific leaders: a workshop with Churchill Scholars

27 March 2018


Reported by Helen Brooks, NERC-funded CSaP Policy Intern (March-July 2018)

Developing the next generation of scientific leaders: professional development for early-career researchers

This two-day programme, included an evening event at Churchill College, Cambridge and a full day event at the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology (POST) and The Royal Society in London. Both events were open to Churchill Scholars (Masters students on scholarship from the USA) and to other PhD students at the University of Cambridge in STEM subjects.

The first day formed part of a collaborative project on ‘science and democracy’ between Churchill College, Cambridge Institute of Public Policy and the Centre for Science and Policy. The panellists were comprised of distinguished Professors, who had considerable experience of policy engagement:

The panel discussion highlighted several key challenges of, and tips for, linking research into policy. These included the importance of communication: pitching your research at the right level for a civil servant or the public to understand, as well as refining your writing style. Another point was the need to work with other researchers and with civil servants. These personal relationships, and the sharing of credit for the work, are key to knowledge exchange. Finally, the political context is also important - time of year, whether you want to speak to the government or the opposition. By speaking to the correct person, the likelihood of successful knowledge exchange will increase.

The second day aimed to improve attendees’ understanding of how Parliament works and how Learned Societies (e.g. The Royal Society and British Society) contribute to policy. Students enjoyed a talk at POST, which covered the individual roles of Parliament (all the MPs and Lords), the Government (the political party with the most seats) and Select Committees (a committee composed of MPs or Lords who collect information from ministers, researchers, organisations and the public on a specific issue).

A working lunch with CSaP Policy Fellows provided insight into the specific policy challenges posed by artificial intelligence. These were summarised in presentations and responses from:
  • Dr Stephen Cave, Executive Director, Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence
  • Imogen Parker, Programme Head, Justice, Rights and Digital Society, The Nuffield Foundation
  • Brittany Smith, Senior Policy Analyst, DeepMind
This session raised important issues which could be raised by the increase in intelligence and automomy brought about by artificial intelligence, and how the policy world would have to respond to this. This included the need for technology to innovate whilst still ensuring that human values are also upheld through machine learning. Also noted was the importance of good communication between the public, the government and the researchers, and the need for appropriate policy and legal structures to develop and keep pace with innovation.

"I would highly recommend this programme and really appreciate the opportunity I have had to attend the workshops. I am particularly pleased about the breadth of the discussion and events, including the POST talk which was very informative." Programme participant