Ever wondered why the government made a particular decision?
Concerned that the charity you support is spending its money in an evidence based manner?
Dreaming of using your scientific super powers for good?
Want to make real change in the world around you? Science policy influences many aspects of our lives. Furthermore, it’s a diverse and international field which builds skills useful in many areas. Let’s explore how you could get into science policy.
Before you panic, it doesn’t have to be major career shift! Fixed term, project based policy work is available. The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recruits scientists in this way. Scientists work with legislation or public awareness of specific issues. Sounds like research so far? Want to take it further? A science policy career is full of challenge and reward.
Who is looking for scientists to provide expert ideas and views?
Well, hopefully everyone! The government definitely needs some help. But seriously, you don’t have to work with politicians. The following non-exhaustive list gives the sheer range of the organisations:
- Government at all levels (local and national)
- Charities (a hugely diverse sector in and of itself)
- Professional bodies (learned societies, trade bodies, unions)
- International bodies – WHO, WTO, UN
If you understand you can’t plot a graph with two points, its time to jump in!
How do I get started in science policy?
Your research may naturally lead to opportunities to get involved in policy. Climate change research is a good example. Others focus on a social issues that they have a passion for and get drawn into policy that way. Opportunists may just apply the try it and see what happens approach. The Royal Society offers a great opportunity through its Pairing Scheme. Ignore the worthy titles! You only need at least 2 years postdoc experience:
Each year 30 research scientists are paired with UK parliamentarians and civil servants. They learn about each other’s work by spending time together in Westminster and the researcher’s institutions. Those taking part gain an insight into how research findings can help inform policy making, and come away with a better understanding of how they can get involved.
The best way would be to hunt down someone who does the work that interests you. Use LinkedIn, departmental contacts and friends to connect. A quick cuppa (you are buying by the way!) will answer your questions and give you real insight. What is science policy like day to day? Does science policy involve lots of travel? We learn from poeples career stories. Leah Goldfarb tells of her science policy career here.
What skills do I need to get into science policy?
The Royal Society emphasise the ability to explain science to a lay audience. Therefore, strong communication skills are a must. Dr Mark Downs (the Chief Executive of the Society of Biology) adds the following important skills for Science Policy Careers:
- Good at detail but understand big picture
- Knowledge of business and politics
- Public engagement
Therefore, think about building up these skills during your research contracts. Working with university societies, getting involved in outreach and networking are all great preparation.