Two University of Manchester scientists will be swapping their lab coats for legislation, when they visits the House of Commons for a “Week in Westminster” commencing Monday 2 December as part of a unique ‘pairing’ scheme run by the Royal Society – the UK’s national academy of science.
During their visits, graphene researcher Dr Aravind Vijayaraghavan will shadow Lucy Powell, MP for Manchester Central while electrical engineer Dr Alex Casson will be paired with Dr Matthew James, Civil Servant in Transport Security Strategy, Department for Transport.
Both scientists with learn about the work of their partners, as well as attending Prime Minister’s Question Time and meeting Professor David MacKay FRS, Chief Scientific Advisor to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). The visit will provide them with a behind-the-scenes insight into how science policy is formed as well as an understanding of the working life of MPs and civil servants.
Dr Vijayaraghavan said: “This is an invaluable opportunity to learn the inner workings of the government and its various committees and bodies. It is also important that scientists are able to both offer their knowledge and voice their concerns to these bodies in order that they should arrive at the best decision for all concerned. It is not often that the two worlds of academia and government get to spend some time in each other’s shoes, and hopefully everyone emerges wiser from this experience.”
Lucy Powell MP added: “I’m really pleased to take part in this pairing scheme. I look forward to hosting Dr Vijayaraghavan in Parliament and visiting him to see the work that he does. It is a really good idea for science and politics to mix and to inform each other’s work and I am sure that we will both learn a lot from spending some time shadowing one another.”
Dr Casson said: “This is a really exciting opportunity to see behind-the-scenes in Westminster and to engage in the policy making process. It is crucially important for scientists and engineers to inform on policy issues and I am looking forward to taking my cutting-edge research from The University of Manchester to the heart of Government.”
The Royal Society’s MP-Scientist pairing scheme aims to build bridges between parliamentarians and some of the best scientists in the UK. It is an opportunity for MPs to become better informed about science issues and for scientists to understand how they can influence science policy. Over 200 pairs of scientists and MPs have taken part in the scheme since it was launched in 2001.
Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society said: “We live in a world facing increasing challenges that can only be addressed with a clear understanding of science. From climate change to influenza outbreaks, GM food to nuclear power, our MPs have to make decisions about complex issues that will affect the lives of all those in the UK and, in many cases, more widely throughout the world. This means that MPs and scientists have a responsibility to engage with each other to get the best possible scientific advice into public policy making.
“We set up the Royal Society’s MP Scientist pairing scheme in 2001 to provide the opportunity for MPs and scientists to build long-term relationships with each other and have now organised over two hundred pairings.
“I know many parliamentarians and scientists who have gained from the scheme, and the shaping of public policy can only improve over time as these relationships continue to grow.”