Voice of the Future 2015 took place in the Boothroyd Room at the Houses of Parliament in early March 2015. The format of the event is the reverse of the normal select committee, with the members of the House of Commons Science & Technology Committee (amongst others) acting as the ‘witnesses’ and the UK’s next generation of scientists, engineers and mathematicians acting as the ‘interrogators’ (although this was not exactly water-boarding!). This year’s event was broadcast live on BBC Parliament, highlighting the increasing importance of engaging the public with government, especially for the next generation. Early Career representation in the horseshoe was provided by Zaki Hassan-Smith (Birmingham), Tijana Mitic, Sam Mirczuk (RVC) and Karla Oldknow (Edinburgh).
The event was arranged in four different sessions to increase the number of participants and to include more ‘witnesses’. Panels included the Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor Sir Mark Walport, who as a Clinical Scientist was previously director of the Wellcome Trust for 10 years. Questions touched on topics such as the use of scientific evidence in policy-making, diversity in science, mentoring, the balance between funding for research versus innovation and immigration issues around overseas students. In the final two sessions we heard from the UK Government minister for Science, Innovation and Cities preceded by his shadow. These sessions had a stronger political flavour, with each party trying to convince the ‘youth’ that theirs was the best strategy for the future.
A running theme was the lack of female and ethnic minority representation in senior academic posts (a glance of the Evening Standard the next day revealed that this problem has also been highlighted in our spy agencies). It seems that there are far too many white, slightly podgy, middle-aged men in professorships and senior positions in science, including the research councils. Although all the participants seemed to enjoy the event and their day in Parliament, this year’s selected questions seemed very general in nature. In a year when there have been significant changes to the legislation around 3 parent embryos, I felt that the witnesses could have tackled some of the more scientifically focused questions.
You can watch the Voice of the Future session in full on the UK Parliament website.
Professor Derek Renshaw attended Voice of the Future 2015 as the representative of the Society for Endocrinology’s Science Committee. He is based at the Centre for Applied Biological & Exercise Sciences, Coventry University.