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EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Fluid Dynamics

EPSRC RISE: Making Connections Training

CDT student Megan Bickle talks about her experience at Recognising Inspirational Scientists and Engineers (RISE) training run by EPSRC.

“I recently started a PhD in atmospheric science, researching the intensity of storms in the West African Monsoon. I find this topic incredibly interesting; getting to grips with the intricacies of such a complicated system as the weather feels like I’m beginning to pick away at the fabric that shapes our world. Successful scientific research is by definition ground-breaking, delivering a wealth of possibilities with each discovery. Unfortunately, the vitality and health of our scientific community often seems under-represented in governmental decision making. For me this is a serious problem. A well-funded scientific community encourages novel discoveries, often resulting in spin-off technologies and industry. Investing in academic research also encourages environments which produce highly skilled workforces and so higher national productivity levels.

Perhaps equally worrying, the pragmatic, evidence based thinking involved in science often seems lacking in decisions that affect our society as a whole. To ensure that scientific research and interests are strongly represented in the decision making of government, scientists must develop new skills.

With that in mind I applied for the RISE Making Connections training organised by the EPSRC, the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council, who fund my research. The training itself consisted of an introduction to the structure and process of the British government and parliaments as well as media training.

It was interesting to hear from Sarah Foxen, a Social Science Adviser from POST, the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, on their role in government and the process involved in creating POSTits which are detailed summaries of a current issue related to science which is likely to have a large impact on the country. These are often created by Fellowes, PhD students who are completing three-month placements with different Research Councils.

Harry Beeson a Committee for the Science and Technology Select Committee also explained the importance of select committees in parliament. He was able to explain how scientists can become involved in submitting academic research into relevant select committee inquiries as well as appear before a select committee hearing. As well as how scientists can use such experiences as evidence of impact and publications which universities often demand. This was interesting to learn about however, I feel that there may be some time until I achieve a level of experience from which I can contribute in this manner.

Additionally, we learnt how to identify members of parliament whose interests are likely to overlap with our research and who may be amenable to some discourse and collaboration. One point they both made was that it is often more effective to lobby parliament than Whitehall as MPs have the responsibility of questioning the current government. I hope to make use of these insights to promote atmospheric science with parliamentarians and their researchers to ensure our interests and more strongly represented.

The media training was interjected with audio clips of examples of different scientific communicators which highlighted the format of most media interaction with scientists. We learnt how to prepare for such occasions so that the message that you provide aligns with your intentions. In particular, it was heavily recommended to choose three key messages you wish to highlight as well as understanding that you must be able to ‘sell’ the story – why should the audience care? Preparing a toolkit which contains examples and anecdotes which make your research more accessible to a general audience was also suggested. Once created this can be recycled for different occasions. Creating an easily obtained public profile which clearly shows your background, skills and previous media experience was also highlighted as important. This allows politicians and members of the media, who often have little time, to both find you and quickly check your credentials, e.g. a simple podcast can demonstrate your skills as a science communicator.

At the end of the second day we were tasked with creating connections with a number of people who would aid in promoting our research field or supportive in our research. This is an exciting challenge to create a better network of people who can collaborate to ensure research in my field is both relevant to issues within society and impactful. This effort will culminate in a debate in January around ‘What makes a good science communicator?’ where my connections will be invited to attend.”

To find out more about RISE, please visit: https://www.epsrc.ac.uk/skills/rise/