Supporting the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee
Posted by Dr Harry Beeson on 15 November 2017
House of Commons Science and Technology Committee
I have just started working for the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee. The Committee is made up of eleven MPs, from a distribution of parties reflecting the election result. Its role is to ‘scrutinise’ the Government Office for Science, to examine Government policy to ensure it is based on good scientific evidence, and to investigate science and technology issues to report back to the House of Commons. The Committee mainly achieves this by holding inquiries – first collecting written evidence on a certain topic from interested parties, then questioning relevant experts and Government officials, and finally publishing a report summarising its findings and making recommendations for Government. Have a look at what inquiries we’re currently running at Parliament.uk (especially if you have an opinion or evidence to contribute!).
Balanced and accessible analysis
I chose to study physics at university because I enjoyed the balance of science and maths. Four years of lectures and practicals later, I was keen to put what I’d learnt to use, and was lucky enough to get a place on the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Nanoscience and Nanotechnology at the University of Cambridge. As a doctoral training centre, the science was interdisciplinary and the course covered topics outside of pure research, such as innovation, science communication, ethics and science policy. My research took me to the departments of Physics, Engineering, Chemistry and even Zoology, while the transferrable skills training saw me complete a consultancy project for GlaxoSmithKline and attend a science policy day at the Royal Society of Chemistry.
I also took three months out of my PhD to complete an EPSRC-funded fellowship at the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST). POST is Parliament’s in-house source of analysis of science, technology and social science relevant to public policy, and is best-known for the short briefings it produces for Parliament on such issues, known as ‘POSTnotes’ (these are publicly available POSTnotes page). During my fellowship, I researched and wrote a POSTnote covering ‘trends in information and communication technology’. This mainly involved identifying and interviewing all the main stakeholders, reading relevant literature and somehow condensing all of this information into a clear, impartial four-page briefing!
Having finished my PhD, and after a brief stint translating science textbooks from French into English, I re-joined POST before moving to the Science and Technology Committee as a Committee Specialist.
Take any opportunity you can
Being at university is great for finding interesting opportunities, especially if you’re studying science. As well as working at POST, I presented my own research in Parliament as part of the STEM for Britain event, and worked at the University of Tokyo and at the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi. Combined with the variety of training and projects offered by the doctoral training centre course, these experiences opened my eyes to where a science degree can take you.
If you’re doing a PhD but don’t want a career in research, think about what other skills you have developed and how they might be put to use. Although I’m not setting up experiments or solving equations, my research background has given me useful skills for my new role. The Committee can look at any area of science, technology, social science or science governance, so I have to be able to quickly learn about whatever area we might be looking at next. During the course of an inquiry, we can receive lots of written evidence, so the ability to evaluate and synthesise information is a valuable skill. Finally, just as researchers distil their work into short journal articles, it is vital that our briefings for the Committee members are clear and concise.