This week’s guest blogger is Diana Garnham, the chief executive of the Science Council, and chair of the Department for Business Innovation and Skills Expert Group on science for careers, and a regular on the FT science podcast. Prior to joining the Science Council, Diana has managed various other organisations, including the Association of Medical Research Charities. Throughout her career she has been involved with many science related engagement initiatives and policy campaigns.
Sir Gareth Roberts, was very clear about his reasons for wanting to set up the Science Council in 2000:
“There are many challenging issues facing the world in the 21st Century and the science community will need to work both collectively and collaboratively to tackle these.”
My principal task as Chief Executive of the Science Council is to establish priorities and ways in which the science community can work collaboratively to tackle the key issues faced by society today.
The Science Council has dual aims of advancing professionalism in science and increasing the application of science for social benefit. There are now more than 30 member organisations from across the spectrum of science – learned societies including chemistry, biology, physics, mathematics, psychology, as well as professional bodies from nuclear to soil science. It is funded collectively by these organisations and by individual professional scientists through the Chartered Scientist scheme.
What is science?
The Science Council’s embraces science and scientists from basic research through to development and application, as well as across disciplines and professions: it is both inter-disciplinarity and multi-disciplinarity. One of our early tasks was to establish a definition of science that worked across this breadth and in 2008 we published a definition that seems to be passing the test of time. It took us 18 months to agree science is the pursuit of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence. Science is a methodology rather than a discipline, and scientists are those who create knowledge and understanding and/or use and apply it.
Working in collaboration
As a seasoned chief executive of umbrella bodies I was under no illusions that getting more than 30 organisations to work together to make a difference was going to be an easy task, and there have certainly been ups and downs in the early years. There is now stronger ‘Science Council-ness’ and a coming together that has enabled us to set out overarching policy on science and innovation investment. This includes establishing some key collaborative projects on outreach, careers and skills, science policy, and advice to Government. Most importantly we help to raise the standards of professionalism in the practice of science, at all levels.
Developing and supporting the science workforce
The term scientist has come to be associated largely with research and development and there is a tendency – particularly in academia – to consider only those with PhDs as real scientists. Apart from this clearly not being true – many more scientists are employed outside academia than within it, with the majority or practicing scientists neither working in the public sector nor education. I personally don’t find this at all surprising – that the more science we discover and develop, the more scientists we need to translate and apply it in society and the economy. A narrow view of the role of the scientist is not only inhibiting young people from entering science, but inhibits the mobility of those who want to move on academia.
If the UK economy is going to compete globally then it will need to attract young people into science and to raise awareness of the career opportunities arising from the study of science and maths. The forecasts suggest demand is between 640,000 to 750,000 more people in the workforce with these skills by 2017-2024. UKCES suggests 58% of all new jobs will require science and technology skills. These numbers are staggering, therefore providing better careers information for school students, science teachers, careers advisers and parents has to be a high priority. There are well documented skills shortages and skills gaps: current shortage areas include food science and medical physics, for example, both sectors where we need to have strong skills to maintain public confidence.
The Science Council is leading work to increase the take up of science and maths post 16 in order to meet these skills demands. We have much deepened understanding of the many different roles that those with science backgrounds undertake in the economy and the mix of skills and competencies that employers will need, as well as seeking to understand transferability and generic knowledge and skills. We know that 58% of STEM graduates work for small and medium sized businesses and not the large, high profile employers that most can name. Central to all of this is the need to promote the profession of scientist – without improved awareness of what scientists do and what sort of people they are, we have no hope of inspiring more young people to aim for science careers. Our Hidden Science Map aiming to get all types of scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians to come out and show just how much science and technology is going on everywhere in the UK – sign up on the map – it’s and easy way to ‘do your bit’ on careers and skills.
In 2004 the Science Council launched the Register of Chartered Scientist and since then more than 15,000 practicing scientists have been registered. Last year we fulfilled our commitment to high standards of current competence for registrants by implementing annual revalidation through CPD, one of the first technical based registers to do so. Later this year we will launch a Science Technician Register and next an Intermediate ‘graduate’ register. All the registers encapsulate the multi-disciplinary nature of 21st Century science in which individuals will often practice or specialise in different areas of science and technology during their careers. But they will also, for the first time, recognise the different types and levels of skills that a science and innovation based economy will need.
For more information about the Science Council, its projects and the work of its member bodies click here.