For those who weren’t at the prize giving event, POSTnotes are 4 page briefing documents, or ‘notes’, on current science and technology issues relating to science policy. These documents are a non-biased representation of current research and facts, written to a non-specialist audience and are sent to MPs to inform them before policy decisions. For the purposes of the blog I’ll refer to them as SiPnotes to avoid confusion with the real deal!
Participants were split up into small (4 or 5 people) inter-disciplinary teams, given a topic and 2 months to write their very own SiPnote. The competition finished with 8 SiPnote submissions on the following ‘hot topics’:
Nature: Wellbeing and Health
Social Mobility and Science Education
The Effects of Wind Turbines on Wildlife
Autonomous Robotics in the Home
Climate Change and Food Security
For the competition I worked as part of a 5 person group on the topic ‘The Effects of Wind Turbines and Wildlife’. All I can say is that SiPnotes really are hard work to write. They are even harder to make non-biased (having not done that bit too well I fear). I got the impression that all the SiPnotes were of an extremely high quality and everyone that submitted a SiPnote both enjoyed the process, meeting policy interested individuals from across the university and also have taken away valuable writing (and planning) skills. The organisers deserve credit for a well thought out and run competition and also thanks from everyone taking part.
The prize giving ceremony started off with Helen and Beth explaining both what the Science in Policy group do, want to do, how members have been involved with the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, and of course a crash course into POSTnotes. We went on to have our ‘whistle-stop tour’ into the eight POSTnote topics listed above. I will try to summarise for people who couldn’t attend:
We heard about how green space can give value to our health, both physically and mentally; how social mobility is linked to education and how science education can contribute to good life choices and therefore social mobility. We heard about how wind turbines are a positive contribution as a renewable energy source, but may pose a threat to local wildlife without careful planning. We heard about both the high-tech precision agriculture methods, and the helpful resource saving techniques that are simpler to implement. We heard about autonomous robots, and how these may not be as ‘dystopian’ as science fiction films make out; they can be as simple as a robotic hoover. We heard about the distribution and types of mobile health applications available to us (97,000 apparently!). We had an informative presentation on both the biology of Parkinson's, drug treatments, and the impacts of health care for both patients and carers. We also heard about how climate change may impact food security on every continent and the knock-on risks we may have because of that.
Rt Hon David Blunkett MP then gave a humbling keynote speech on his take on science in policy. He implored young people to learn about policy and get involved to make sure a clear and accurate message about science research and these ‘hot topics’ get through to both MPs and the public. He said he looked forward to a time where good researchers were seen more and more in the media for positive research and technology developments. He also shared several remarkable anecdotes about his education that made a well rounded speech crediting the value of university level study, both in a science and the social sciences.
The winning SiPnote was very well deserved and was on Social Mobility and Science Education, with a second place awarded to the SiPnote on mHealth Apps (still getting over the fact there are 97,000!). Third place went to the SiPnote on Parksinson’s Disease.
Personally, I was very happy to see what my ‘competitors’ had been getting up to for the past 2 months, as well as learning more about ‘hot topics’ I may not have otherwise ‘googled’. Of course I was a little disappointed that my slideshow, including a photo of a dead bat, didn’t waggle me a House of Commons ‘goody bag’ like the third place prize… there’s always next time.
Both the prize-giving ceremony, writing the SiPnote, and the SiP team have inspired me to stop ignoring the role we as researchers should play in ensuring research and facts are represented properly, and how we can help get the information to the places they need to go for change (POSTnotes!). They have also inspired and encouraged me to get more involved with the SiP group, so I’ll be sitting somewhere at the next event, and listening with my learning cap on!
- Caitlin Brumby (MBB PhD student)