How can postdoctoral researchers engage with policy?

17 December 2018


Reported by Katie Cohen, CSaP Research Assistant

A CSaP professional development policy workshop organised in collaboration with the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs brought together the Borysiewicz Biomedical Sciences Fellows, Canada UK Fellows, and six keynote speakers to discuss opportunities for postdoctoral researchers to engage with policy issues.

Chaired by CSaP Director Rob Doubleday, the roundtable discussion featured speakers working at the intersection of science and policy and gave Fellows the chance to ask questions about evidence-based policy making and career opportunities.

Jasdeep Sandhu (Department for International Development) opened the workshop with an overview of the strategies and aims of her department, including a case study of DFID's pioneering efforts during the ebola outbreak.

Providing a more general framework for policy interventions, Louise Wood (Department of Health and Social Care) outlined differences between academic and government departments and emphasized specific opportunities for experts to contribute. Prompting questions about the challenges of horizon scanning, these speakers provided insights into both how evidence is used in policymaking and what channels could be better utilised to harness postdoctoral communities.

Sarion Bowers (Wellcome Sanger Institute) then spoke about her role as a protector and case-builder for the scientific work conducted at the Sanger Institute. As a complement, Mitchell Harris (Abcam) advised on design choices essential to getting into policy and advocated for academic proactivity in monitoring the public sphere. These talks stimulated discussion about contradictory evidence and evidence synthesis.

The final two presenters surveyed their career trajectories and conclusions drawn about evidence-based policymaking. Andy Richards (Entrepreneur specialising in healthcare and life sciences) stressed the fact that data is dynamic, and therefore policy solutions must respond to change through frequent updates.

Leila Luheshi (Oxford Nanopore Technologies Ltd) described her career as guided by the desire to achieve tangible and efficient impact, eventually discovering that industry granted her more access to key decision makers than academia, government, or a think tank.

After the plenary discussion, the group self-divided into three small roundtables convened around particular questions:

  1. What are the risks and opportunities for policymakers that will arise from enabling all citizens to generate and access genomic information about any living thing?
  2. What are the possibilities for iterative policymaking through closed-loop feedback systems?
  3. What do you see as the opportunities and challenges for science, technology and innovation contributing to achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs)?

In tackling these questions, each group was encouraged to focus on how the Fellows might contribute to evidence-based policy making.

The key takeaway from the workshop was that early-career researchers could make important contributions to policy decisions and experimenting with various forms of communication (i.e. opinion pieces, youtube channels, and tweeting at MPs) had the potential to improve knowledge transfer.