Ricky Milne – CSIRO Agriculture and Food, Black Mountain, Canberra
I was fortunate to be one of this year’s ASPS representatives at Science meets Parliament, held in November 2019. Science meets Parliament is a two-day meeting held annually in Canberra, where STEM professionals learn how science fits in to the workings of parliament and the policy making process, network with others from broad scientific backgrounds and have the opportunity to meet with a parliamentarian to give them a snapshot of their science. Given I don’t closely follow politics, this meeting was extremely useful and informative.
The bar was set high on the first morning, with the opening address given by renowned burns specialist, Winthrop Professor Fiona Wood. She shared her experiences of science and innovation in her career, and the importance of communicating our research findings. We also heard from Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel and NZ’s Chief Science Advisor Prof. Gary Evans, who discussed prospects for the future and how to talk science to government. A major focus of this meeting was on developing skills and practicing how to pitch our research in a brief, accessible format, working towards putting this training into practice whilst meeting with a parliamentarian on the second day. Part of this was learning how to capture the audience’s interest in shorter and shorter time periods, until we could do so convincingly in twenty seconds. I was fortunate to practice my pitch with Prof. Fiona Wood, who was extremely down-to-earth and unsurprisingly gave me some great tips. After a packed schedule of networking, skill building and panel discussions, the day concluded at the gala dinner held in the Great Hall at Parliament House.
On day two, we ventured to Parliament House and saw what that goes on during a sitting day – constant bells ringing, parliamentarians scurrying around to vote in time, last minute schedule changes and Prime Minister getting grilled during question time about his phone call to the NSW police chief. After learning how to pitch our science on day one, we were ready to put that into practice when meeting with a parliamentarian on day two. Meetings weren’t scheduled until late and changed up until the last minute. After attending question time, our group was due to meet with Dr John McVeigh, member for Groom, but were rescheduled to meet with Meryl Swanson, member for Paterson, who had other matters to attend but we had a good discussion with her chief of staff. This exemplified the nature of how things unfold at Parliament House.
Science meets Parliament isn’t the typical meeting and I did not know what to expect but was pleasantly surprised. I would highly recommend it to anyone considering attending. However, after two days of wearing a suit and uncomfortable shoes, I learned that I definitely prefer casual clothes and a lab coat!