Policy – why should I care?

Helen Sang and Malcolm Walkinshaw

Almost all PIs, post-docs and PhD students we meet are firmly focussed on generating quality results for the next paper or grant application.  That is the life-style we are used to and most of us enjoy – thinking through the next possible set of experiments or writing the next piece of computer code to test that compelling idea that you just conjured up.

That model of a scientist, totally absorbed in the scientific process, works well when research funds are available and when the taxpayer is generally supportive of money being spent on research that will cure disease, provide better quality food and produce cheaper energy – and perhaps even be willing to feed the spirit of truly abstract, theoretical or curiosity driven research.

A dictionary definition of ‘Policy’ is ‘the course of action adopted and pursued by an organisation’. It is now clear what government policy is, with funding bodies like the BBSRC and MRC being primed for massively reduced budgets as George Osborne demands that non-protected Departments model plans for cuts of 25–40% by 2020 (www.theguardian.com/science/science-funding-crisis).   As scientists and academics we are obliged to look up from the lab-bench for a moment and engage in developing our own policies to advance the work we are committed to.  

Much of our research is aimed, in short or long term, at application in areas from human health through to agriculture. The application of the results of our research may be through providing information to inform development of policies or require policy changes to facilitate application. Examples include the use of genotype information in medicine or application of GM technologies in agriculture. Understanding how to engage with policy makers and finding the way through the many aspects of government and other organisations that develop policies or advise policy makers is a challenge for researchers.

The workshop organised as part of the Excellence with Impact http://www.excellence-impact.bio.ed.ac.uk/making-impact-policy-workshop initiative sets out to explore what policies we should develop and what mechanisms are available to realise the policy proposals. Urgent action by all of us in science is required.

You can sign up for the workshop at http://bit.ly/1LIlIOl