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Job profile: science policy

Science policy - holding image

Paul Richards – science policy

What is your current job title?

Science Policy Officer.

What organisation do you work for?

The Microbiology Society.

What qualifications do you have?

I completed an undergraduate master's degree in Zoology at the University of Sheffield. Recently, I have just completed a PhD studying evolutionary genetics. During my PhD I also did some science engagement work in schools, and also successfully applied for a three-month science policy internship with the Society of Biology. Prior to this internship, I didn’t know much about science policy, or that I wanted to pursue it as a career!

What got you interested in microbiology?

Although not a microbiologist by training, I was interested in working as Policy Officer for the Society because microbiology underlies many national and international policy challenges, such as the rise of antimicrobial resistance, generating sustainable energy and ensuring we can produce enough food to feed a growing global population.

More generally, science policy let me pursue my personal interest in science, meet scientists, policy makers and other people from diverse backgrounds, and use transferable skills acquired from my undergraduate and postgraduate studies. It also gives me an opportunity to contribute to tackling some of the important challenges faced by society.

What is your present occupation – what is it you do?

My role is to help microbiologists get the support they need to do their research, and to help them to communicate their knowledge to Government and the public to inform policy or tackle national and international challenges.

For instance, I might publish a short report highlighting to policy makers a lack of funding for researchers, or that there is not enough microbiology training in schools or universities, which might mean there are not enough microbiologists in the future.

Policy makers may also need expert advice from microbiologists when developing a policy, or may request more research in a particular area of microbiology to tackle a particular challenge facing society. Using expert information provided by microbiologists, I write short briefings for parliamentarians and the public to provide useful advice on science policy issues. I also help organise talks and meetings involving scientists, policy makers and other organisations to help them work together.

Can you describe a typical working day?

My working day can be very variable, but usually involves working on reports or blog articles about science policy, attending meetings with colleagues and people from other organisations, and coordinating the organisation of science policy events. I also have to keep an eye out for the latest science policy news and development, in case I need to quickly respond to these. I do regularly get to leave the office to attend events and workshops in London and other parts of the UK, including parliament.

What do you like most/least about your job?

The thing I like most about my job is the variety! One day I might be responding to a new science policy development published that morning, while the next I might be attending an event on a completely different science topic, meeting scientists, policy makers and colleagues from other organisations.

The thing I like least is the acronyms! Policy people abbreviate names a lot and it can sometimes be difficult to keep track of what is being talked about.

What are the most important skills you need to do your job?

An enthusiasm for science and its broader relevance to society is vital. Communication is central to my job so you need be able to work collaboratively, as well as be clear and concise when writing a briefing, or contributing to a meeting. Adaptability is also important due to the variety of activities and topics you might get involved with.

Is there anything you wish someone had told you about the job before you started?

Looking back, I wish I was made more aware earlier on in my career that you don’t need to be an active researcher to have a fulfilling career in bioscience.


Image: Thinkstock/iStock

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