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2 February 2011
How do you cope when the transport sector is working to a 30 year plan but the Government's policy plan has to be only on a four/five year timescale because of the electoral cycle? Is it good to spend so much on major scientific research programmes projects such as CERN when engineering and technology has more immediate benefit? Questions such as these were amongst the many intriguing issues addressed at the Professional Development Policy Seminar for Engineers held in December 2011. Organised jointly by the Department of Engineering and the University's Centre for Science and Policy, this event allowed early career researchers (PhD candidates and post docs) from the Department to gain an insight into the world of policy and engage with both senior academics who have taken part in these processes and policy makers themselves.
Senior academics from the Department, Professor Ann Dowling and Professor Robert Mair, provided exemplary role models of academics who have engaged with policy makers and played their part in guiding strategic initiatives. Early career researchers were left aghast by the hours of commitment involved, over and above the academics' 'day job'. However, government advisors rely on lists of experts in various fields who they can draw upon to provide advice. In the last five years there has been a huge change in the numbers of Chief Scientific Advisors - there is now one for every government department.
The advice from the policy makers themselves to the researchers was that to be effective in influencing the process, it is important as scientists and engineers to learn about policy and the policy making process, to read widely and keep on top of current affairs, to understand government priorities and what different departments do. Above all, it is important to understand what they [the Government] are trying to achieve. What are their values and priorities? Opportunities for internships are available, but the advice was to 'write up first' before applying for one of these!
We were privileged to be joined on the day by Professor Brian Collins from BIS, Chris McFee from the Government Office for Science, Professor Ian Poll, Professor of Aerospace from Cranfield, Professor Jeremy Watson CSA for communities and local government and Tony Whitehead from IET, Governance and Policy. Their stories and frank discussions were informative, engaging and often hilarious (think 'Yes Minister') and they in turn appreciated hearing and learning from the young researchers present, who engaged wholeheartedly with the challenges they were set. Philip Guildford, the Department's Director of Research kept the proceedings to time and skilfully mediated the proceedings. A good time was had by all.
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