Case study 2022: Sharon Peacock

Professor of Public Health and Microbiology, Cambridge

Sharon Peacock is Professor of Public Health and Microbiology at the University of Cambridge. Here she describes her experience of engaging with CSaP Policy Fellows.

The work CSaP does in giving civil servants access to a wide range of academic expertise outside of their own environment is so important, not only for the Policy Fellows, but also for the academics they meet.

I directed the development of the COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium (COG-UK), which from March 2020 became instrumental in the generation of SARS-CoV-2 genomes as part of the UK’s pandemic response. COG-UK has delivered genomic data that proved vital in the detection of new variants as they emerged; tracking their spread; and understanding variant transmissibility, immune escape and disease severity.

The last two years have been largely focused on this effort, but it remained important to me to support CSaP. The Centre is an effective convener and gateway into expertise, and its independence is very powerful when interacting with the wider world. It is both rewarding and a privilege to be involved with its work.

I have spoken with a number of CSaP Policy Fellows, during which we explored a range of areas including genomics and pathogen sequencing, antimicrobial resistance and global health. It was a pleasure to take part in the Science and Policy Podcast with Rob Doubleday this year. I appeared in an episode with Professor James Wood (Head of Department of Veterinary Medicine, Cambridge Infectious Diseases), where we discussed lessons learnt from COVID-19 to help prepare for future pandemics. My time on CSaP’s Advisory Council has also been a privilege; it has given me a chance to help reflect on the future of the Centre and its strategic priorities going forward.

Being part of CSaP has allowed me to access areas of intellectual thought that I haven’t previously explored and I value the opportunity to hear about disciplines and topics that I have no knowledge or experience of. Recently, I attended the Inaugural Reynolds Lecture in Cambridge co-organised by CSaP and delivered by the author and academic Professor Robert McFarlane. He explored whether the natural world has legal rights, for instance, whether a river is alive? I found it very thought-provoking, and I found myself questioning how I interacted with the natural world as well as how these ideas could be incorporated into my thinking around antibiotic resistance.

Academic-policy engagement is also vital if we are to make the most of science knowledge and discoveries, particularly with the major global challenges we currently face. Based on the conversations I have had with Policy Fellows, they clearly appreciate and gain from speaking with academics as this can expand their thinking and ideas. On the flipside, it is important that Cambridge has a link into other places – government and the civil service. It is important that the University of Cambridge is outward facing and has a links into government and the civil service. During these conversations it is important to acknowledge the complexity that policy makers often face in taking evidence though to policy and practice, and to work to understand how they operate and make decisions in a public policy environment. This reciprocity is significant not only for the Fellows, but also for academics who work to provide a space for practitioners and policy professionals in Cambridge.