Featured image: Science meets Parliament delegates meet with former Prime Minister Tony Abbott in 2014
Anne-Sophie, what’s your area of research and how can it help to inform policy in Australia?
My area of expertise is in plant pathology and plant physiology. When I was a researcher, I worked on projects that aimed to improve crop production through biotechnologies. I left research in November 2015 and I am now working in science regulation.
I attended Science meets Parliament (SmP) in 2015 to talk about my advocacy efforts regarding diversity and gender balance in research. The projects I was running at that stage, such as an interview series known as The League of Remarkable Women in Science, offered a snapshot of Australian science, featuring women from all backgrounds and all areas of STEM.
These projects were a way to better understand what it means to be a woman in Australian science and what can be done to improve gender balance in research.
When you first attended Science meets Parliament, how did you prepare for your pitch?
Before the event, I made sure I spoke with people who had previously attended SmP. I also sought the advice of my mentors, who helped me define (and refine) my pitch.
The first day of SmP was incredibly useful, as it allowed me to fine-tune what I wanted to say and clarify my expectations from the conference.
Did it have the desired outcome? What would you do differently next time?
It did! I knew that attending SmP would be very productive, but I wasn’t expecting it would make such a difference. By attending SmP, I was able to initiate discussions with the Hon Karen Andrews, who went on to co-chair an event I ran for National Science Week later that year. I would have never dreamed of this happening!
Describe your experience at Science meets Parliament. What did you think of the event?
SmP was a very positive, even transforming event for me. It allowed me to interact with people I would have never met otherwise, and created opportunities that would not have arisen otherwise.
On a more personal level, attending SmP felt very special; I am originally from overseas, and I would never have imagined that I would converse with members of Parliament, let alone invite them to be part of events I was organising.
I have stayed in touch with some of the attendees I met during SmP. Many of them are now good friends of mine, or people I have run events and projects with. It has been a highly positive experience indeed!
What advice do you have for other researchers who are trying to turn their knowledge into action?
Dare to talk about your ideas! I used to think that the projects I was running were not important enough to attract interest from members of Parliament. I thought that I would waste their time. But it turned out to be the opposite. I believe researchers often underestimate the impact that our knowledge and projects can have.
What have been the major challenges in getting your science advocacy efforts heard by policymakers in Australia, and how have you overcome them?
The issues I was focusing on turned out to be of great interest to the members of Parliament I met. They all knew women working in science or had worked in science themselves, and they were convinced that changes had to be made. So I would say that it was actually quite easy to be heard by policymakers.
How do you think the relationship between science and politics in Australia compares with other countries, and what lessons could we take from overseas?
I have the feeling that building relationships between science and politics is somehow easier here in Australia than, for example, in France. I would never have had the opportunity of meeting members of Parliament in France the way I did during SmP. Such meetings are limited to high-ranked, senior scientists.
What do you hope to see more of at Science meets Parliament in the future?
I am hoping to see a greater focus on the crucial issues Australian science urgently needs to address. For example, what can be done to improve diversity in research? How do we stop losing so many talented early-career scientists? How do we address the harassment and bullying issues that are so prevalent?
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