Case study 2022: Emily So

Professor of Architectural Engineering, University of Cambridge

Emily So is Professor of Architectural Engineering at the University of Cambridge. Here she describes the connections she has developed as part of CSaP's network, and how these connections have informed not only her work but also the work of the policy makers she meets with.

As an academic I regularly absorb knowledge, however, most of the time I am so stuck within my own discipline that it becomes difficult to engage with a wide range of practice. The major question many of us have is, how can our research impact society? CSaP has been such an eye-opener in that respect.

I lead a group at the University of Cambridge called the Centre for Risk in the Built Environment (CURBE). My research focuses on how buildings are affected by natural hazards, including earthquakes, floods, and heatwaves, and determining what behaviours and mitigation strategies might influence survival, especially in developing countries.

I have been fortunate enough to have met with many of CSaP's Policy Fellows. One of the first was Elizabeth Surkovic, back when she was Deputy Director for Science, at the Government Office for Science. I keep in touch with her. It is wonderful to see and hear how academic research is relevant and informing practice there. It has enabled me to think about developing an evidence base to translate into practical solutions to help inform policy.

Thanks to CSaP’s Executive Director, Rob Doubleday, I have been able to forge connections with other academics at the University as well. One of the most important links has been with Professor Anna Alexandrova and Professor Mike Kenny; together with Rob Doubleday, we formed an interdisciplinary group that led to a project called Expertise Under Pressure. As part of this project, we have been exploring the role of experts in society and how to improve the communication of expertise.

It is so useful to find out what is going on behind closed doors in government and how far the technology has been developed in certain areas. Recently I attended a workshop where we discussed remote sensing and how the data and information it generates, can help with quantifying risk in the future.

At a CSaP Policy Leaders Fellowship Day, I remember sitting next to Sir Patrick Vallance, who, at the time, was just starting in his position as the UK Government Chief Scientific Advisor. It was so interesting to hear how he connects his own scientific knowledge to the role, which reinforced the importance of scientific knowledge becoming the backbone of policies on science and climate resilience in the future.

In 2022, I was invited to co-host CSaP's Science and Policy Podcast on 'Science, Policy and Climate Resilience', which focused on how to accelerate climate priorities after the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow. It was a huge pleasure and privilege to hear from guests working across a broad array of disciplines. Professor Dame Julia King, Baroness Brown of Cambridge, featured in the series and our conversation was very fruitful. She suggested that with global temperatures rising, we should reconsider the way we work and when exams should take place within schools in the UK. I learnt a lot from her; it was an important insight from an expert I admired and wanted to connect with, which I was able to do through CSaP.