Professional Development Policy Seminar for Health Scientists

3 May 2012


This report was prepared by Zoe Tolkien and Julia Graham.

On 3 May 2012 the Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP) held a professional development policy seminar, in partnership with the Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR) and the Cambridge Institute of Public Health (IPH). Chris Tyler, Executive Director of CSaP, introduced the seminar to an audience of early career health scientists, from the Universities of Bath, Birmingham, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Exeter, Peninsula, Sheffield, UEA and York. The one-day seminar provided an exciting opportunity for attendees to capture an overview of the policy landscape and to connect with the policy makers themselves.

Highlights from the day:

In the first of two panel sessions, delegates heard from academics who have been engaged in the policy process; with panel members giving insightful summaries of their backgrounds and their path into policy. They gave illustrative examples of how their advisory roles have impacted on policy and led to positive changes; such as the implementation of recommended daily intakes for essential nutrients and halting the epidemic of CJD.

Major themes discussed across the panel included reconciling the short timeframes of politics with the often lengthy process of gathering scientific evidence and the importance of evaluating and communicating risk. Panellists also described the frustrations of advising, including splitting their time between academic and policy responsibilities and facing the reality that ‘cost’ trumps ‘science’.

Following the panel presentations, questions from the floor came thick and fast: how much do policy makers engage academics in the decision making process; what possibility is there of ‘piloting’ policies before complete roll-out in order to build evidence and is there a place in policy for early career researchers? The lively discussion continued into lunch, where attendees were also able to make contacts and probe the panel members further.

After lunch the early career researchers broke into groups to discuss the policy process and generate their ideas for improving it. The groups fed back to a panel of policy makers who discussed each group’s conclusions and prompted them to think about the implications and reality of their suggestions.

Following the group sessions, the panel of policy makers gave accounts of the realities of working in policy. All spoke enthusiastically about their roles, despite the frustrations they face, such as the long timescales required until the generation of results, the distortionary impact of single disease lobbyists, and the detrimental effect of over-enthusiastic press releases that are picked up in the media.

Questions from the floor were as lively and numerous as the morning session, asking how much policy is made with a global context in mind; what level of science should be used to communicate with policy makers; and what are the opportunities in policy for health scientists without making a career change.

At the end of the seminar, the room heard about placement and internship experiences from some of the early career scientists and received advice from the panel about the roles and opportunities available, ranging from central and local Government to health NGOs and funding from professional societies to spend time in Government. Panel members also discussed more long-term opportunities for experienced scientists in policy. Recommendations included considering taking a role in the civil service, or within charities and think-tanks as another route in.

In the reception and networking opportunity that concluded the day, delegates and panel members had an opportunity to reflect on the day’s discussions. For the early-career researchers, it was agreed that the seminar had been an opportunity to connect with policy makers and like-minded researchers to find out about the process and to share ideas. Even the speakers did not leave empty-handed, gaining fresh insight into the links being forged between researchers and policy. The day was a resounding success on all sides.

Presentations made by the speakers can be veiwed here: Hilary Powers & Jenny Amery.

Julia Graham

Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge

Miss Zoe Tolkien

Emmanuel College Cambridge

  • 3 May 2012, 10:30am

    Professional Development Policy Seminar for health scientists

    The Centre for Science and Policy, partnering with the Cambridge Institute of Public Health and the Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR), will deliver a Professional Development Policy Seminar for early career researchers, introducing them to the opportunities and the realities of engaging with policy.