Tag Archives: STA

science policy

Make your expertise available

Featured image: President of Science & Technology Australia, Professor Jim Piper (left), hosts a meeting between Science meets Parliament delegates and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (centre) in 2016

Darren, what’s your particular area of research and how can it help to inform policy in Australia?

I am a medical researcher, working to understand the biology of cancer and neurodegeneration, and use that knowledge to design new therapies. Both diseases have a huge health and financial impact in Australia and internationally, and with an ageing population this impact will only increase, with obvious implications for health funding and policy.

When you first attended Science meets Parliament, how did you prepare for your research pitch?

I really didn’t know what to expect so I was actually pretty underprepared. I won’t make that mistake this time!

Did your pitch have the desired outcome? What would you do differently next time?

I had a great discussion with a Greens senator from Western Australia who had a strong interest in environmental issues. We talked about the importance of science in understanding the environment and gathering data as a foundation for drafting good evidence-based policy in areas such as fisheries management and forestry. In some ways I didn’t really have to do much convincing! 

This time I plan to research the electorate of the parliamentarians I’ll meet and the issues that might be important in that context. I’ll make sure I understand the issues they have flagged as important to them and think about how my background and research interests might align with those issues. I also plan to ask them questions to find common ground for discussion.

Describe your experience at Science meets Parliament (SmP). What did you think of the event?

I was really enthused by SmP, and impressed by the level engagement of the politicians and policymakers who attended. I found it an invaluable learning experience and a fantastic opportunity to meet scientists across a broad spectrum of specialities.

Seeing the workings of government up close (if only briefly) was a real eye opener and the various briefings and workshops were constructive and informative. I still draw on the things I learnt there.

In many ways it was a catalyst to me becoming much more interested and active in science policy and communication.

What advice do you have for other researchers who are trying to turn their knowledge into action?

Keep a constructive mindset and focus on how science might help, rather than just presenting a list of problems or complaints.

Listen to the concerns and issues that are important and make yourself available as a source of expertise and advice on the process and outcomes of science by fostering relationships.

Be aware that politics and policy development work to different timelines and use different language to science.

Try to take a bipartisan approach.

What have been the major challenges in getting your science heard by policymakers in Australia, and how have you overcome them?

The most difficult barriers to progress have been the relatively regular turnover of ministers, a challenging funding environment (which always seems to dominate discussions) and hostile attitudes to evidence and rejection of “expertise” in some quarters. 

Overcoming these is really challenging and incredibly time-consuming. My approach is to attempt to build dialogue wherever possible, and to be proactive in making science relevant and interesting to the general public.

I take every opportunity I can to tell people about the outcomes and process of science. Public support for science might eventually translate into it being heard at the policy level.

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 believe we can learn a lot from other countries. For example, we could benefit from aspects of science and policy partnering schemes employed in the UK, science diplomacy schemes in the US, and the appointment of ministers with relevant experience and qualifications in places like Canada.

Most government departments in the UK have a Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA) to provide scientific advice and PhD students can undertake three-month internship placements in the Government Office for Science.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) have a Centre for Science Diplomacy which aims to use to promote scientific cooperation as an essential element of foreign policy.

What are you most looking forward to at Science meets Parliament this year, and what do you hope to see more of in the future?

I look forward to meeting interesting and driven people, gaining new insights and hopefully gaining some traction with politicians about the importance of science and its ability to help drive the health and prosperity of Australians.

Click here to find out more about Science meets Parliament.

science and technology

Speak up for STEM and give facts a chance

As science and technology researchers, practitioners and enthusiasts, we feel very strongly that our community should think analytically and use scientific information to inform their decisions, as individuals and as a nation.

We hope our leaders in politics, business and in the media incorporate the lessons and findings of science and technology into their decision-making about health, energy, transport, land and marine use – and recognise the benefits of investing in great scientific breakthroughs and technological inventions.

But how do we ensure critical thinking is applied in decision-making? How do we incorporate and apply scientific findings and analysis in the formulation of policy, and encourage strong, strategic investment in research?

The only way is to become vocal and proactive advocates for STEM.

Scientists and technologists must see ourselves as not only experts in our field, but also as educators and ambassadors for our sector. Scientists are explicitly taught that our profession is based on logic; that it’s our job to present evidence and leave somebody else to apply it.

For people who’ve made a career of objectivity, stepping out of that mindset and into the murky world of politics and policy can be a challenge, but it’s a necessary one.

The planet is heading towards crises that can be solved by science – food and water security, climate change, health challenges, extreme weather events. It’s arguably never been more important for scientists and technologists to step outside our comfort zone and build relationships with the media, investors, and political leaders. We need to tell the stories of science and technology to solve the species-shaking challenges of our time.

A plethora of opportunities exist for STEM researchers and practitioners to improve and use their skills in communication, influence, marketing, business, and advocacy. As the peak body representing scientists and technologists, Science & Technology Australia hosts a variety of events to equip STEM professionals with the skills they need, while connecting them with the movers and shakers in those worlds.

Science meets Parliament is one of these valuable opportunities, and has been bringing people of STEM together with federal parliamentarians for 18 years. Others include Science meets Business and Science meets Policymakers.

We can provide the forum, but it’s up to STEM professionals to seize the opportunity by forging relationships with our nation’s leaders in politics, business and the media. We must ensure the voice of science is heard and heeded – not just on the day of an event, but every day.

Currently STEM enjoys rare bilateral political support; a National Innovation and Science Agenda; and a new Industry, Innovation and Science Minister, Senator Arthur Sinodinos, who has indicated his intention to continue to roll it out.

As we encounter our fourth science minister in three years, however, we cannot rest on our laurels and allow science and technology to slide down the list of priorities. Bigger challenges are also mounting, with the profession of science correspondent virtually dead in Australia and the international political culture favouring opinion and rhetoric over established fact and credibility.

Scientists and technologists must resist their natural tendency to humility, and proactively sort the nuggets of truth from the pan of silty half-truth. We must actively work to influence public debate by pushing evidence-based arguments into the media, and into the political discourse.

When our society starts assuming that we should make substantial and long-term investment in research; when the methods and findings of science and technology are routinely incorporated into shaping policy and making important decisions for the nation – we’ll consider our job to be well done.

Kylie Walker

CEO, Science & Technology Australia

Read next: Dr Maggie Evans-Galea, Executive Director of ATSE’s Industry Mentoring Network in STEM, paints a picture of Australia’s science and innovation future – one that requires a major cultural shift.

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More Thought Leaders: Click here to go back to the Thought Leadership Series homepage, or start reading the Digital Disruption Thought Leadership Series here.

Science Meets Business summit

Teachers and postdocs key to innovation

Featured image above: a series of four panels discussed STEM and innovation at the Science Meets Business summit

Australia should ‘hang its head in shame’ over our lack of support for teachers, says Ian Chubb AC, the ex-Chief Scientist of Australia, at the second national Science Meets Business event in Melbourne.

The gathering of CEO’s, board members, government, research leaders and start-ups focussed on improving collaboration and innovation in Australia’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) and startup sectors.

As well as ensuring a strong STEM talent pipeline by improving support for teachers, a ‘simple but elegant’ national, industry-led PhD program is key to an innovative future, ANSTO CEO Adi Paterson said at the summit.

The summit heard how developing visible pathways to careers and skilling up students across humanities and STEM was important both to creating startups and improving existing business.

Labour’s Senator Kim Carr and Liberal Assistant Minister Craig Laundy brought the political grunt to a richly experienced series of four panels that covered taking startups to small to medium enterprises; Australia’s tech expertise; improving collaboration between research, government and industry; and looking for Australia’s ‘next big thing’.

The Science Meets Business summit is run annually by Science and Technology Australia. Science Meets Business publishers Refraction Media support the summit as media partner.

There is a need to refocus what we mean by innovation away from “hipster app developers” Senator Carr said, and towards innovation in existing business.

“It’s not possible to foster innovation without substantial investment in science and research,” said Senator Carr.

In a rare bipartisan agreement between the Liberal and Labour factions, The Honorable Craig Laundy MP also called out the need to solve problems in current business in a largely off-the-cuff speech that emphasised his own background as a publican, where innovation could be a new way to clean the taps – which could have involved three staff previously.

Laundy pointed out that there was a need for business to meet science as well as ‘science meets business’.

Developing language to bring together business, investment, researchers and students was one of the areas where Australia could be doing better, the summit heard.

“Innovation is not startups. We’re talking about the transformation of a whole economy,” said Adrian Turner, CEO of Data 61 and chair of the Cyber Security Growth Centre.

Turner went on to say that Australia must look away from Silicon Valley and towards its own opportunities where deep science meets fast-paced entrepreneurship.

Tech capability, biotech, agricultural innovation and defence were some of the strengths which set Australia apart from the rest of the world, the Science Meets Business summit heard.

“We need to lift the scale of our business-science ambition,” Turner said.

Got an opinion? Share your thoughts here or connect with us on Twitter.

– Heather Catchpole

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women in STEM

Everywoman: the modern scientist

I’ve always been a strong proponent and active promoter of women in all fields of endeavour, but for about a decade now my focus has been on promoting the stories of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). So I was somewhat horrified when I took a Harvard University-designed online test designed to detect unconscious gender bias in STEM and found that, when it came to science and technology, I very slightly and subconsciously favoured men.

How could this be? Deep-seated societal programming and a lifetime of hearing ‘he’ as the default is very difficult to undo. Children’s toys and characters in books are often automatically ‘he’: we have to think twice to designate a character as ‘she’. Growing up surrounded by assumptions, words and images that constantly reinforce gender stereotypes, we have our work cut out for us. And when it comes to STEM, those stereotypes are so embedded that even people like me, who actively work against gender stereotypes, unconsciously assume scientists are men.

That’s a tough thing to admit, but I believe it’s important. If I recognise the problem, I can start to do something about it.

There are many important and worthwhile programs aimed at changing the systemic barriers to the retention and advancement of women in STEM. I am so heartened by the rapidly growing volume of excellent work being done in this arena. It’s a significant and meaningful step towards building true equality.

As well as changing the systems in which we work, I believe we also must create new stereotypes. To do that, we need to significantly elevate the visibility of women in STEM, and in particular the visibility of heroines of STEM. We must tell our stories; we must tell them loudly, we must tell them often, and we must tell them in many different ways.


“Changing a stereotype can take generations, and different audiences respond to different story-telling techniques and platforms, so the more people telling success stories of women in STEM at all career stages, the merrier.”


I’m a woman in STEM, but I’m not a researcher or entrepreneur. Instead, my work is to support and elevate scientists and people working in technology. My background is in communication, and my focus has been to find and publicise our success stories. This is not an exclusive or competitive endeavour. Changing a stereotype can take generations, and different audiences respond to different storytelling techniques and platforms, so – as far as I’m concerned – the more people telling success stories of women in STEM at all career stages, the merrier.

We need children’s books featuring women engineers, scientists and technology gurus. We need to celebrate and include women in STEM on social media, in magazines, on daytime TV, on talkback radio, in soapies and the news. We need to see women equally represented on stage at public and private events. We need them on websites, in advertising, and on blogs.

I know the first reference source for many students is Wikipedia, so a few years ago I created the first ‘Women of Science Wikibomb’, with the dual purpose of increasing the (woefully low) percentage of women Wikipedia editors, and increasing the number of Australian women scientists celebrated with their own page on Wikipedia. About 150 science enthusiasts – most of them women – participated all over Australia. Between us, on a single day during National Science Week we created 117 new Wikipedia pages about Australian women scientists. The model has since been replicated by research institutions, museums, governments and big corporations, and the number of Australian women in STEM featured on Wikipedia continues to grow.

I’ve organised nationally broadcast women in STEM events at the National Press Club, supported an outstanding woman scientist to create a Boyer lecture series on Radio National, contributed to creating a national award for women in STEM, and created and produced more than 30 public events featuring women doing extraordinary and fascinating work across the breadth of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

I’ve also coordinated exclusive interviews in the news media and extensive social media campaigns highlighting the vast range of stories, work and motivations of Australian women in STEM at all levels. Science & Technology Australia will keep adding to that work, but it’s just a small drop in a very large ocean. We need lots and lots more drops (some fabulously clever woman could probably tell me exactly how many drops there are in any given ocean). We need to permanently dislodge the ‘pale, male, and stale’ STEM stereotype and recast the modern scientist as everywoman as well as everyman. We need to normalise the idea of women in STEM so completely that the unconscious bias test becomes obsolete.

The good news is, my nine-year-old daughter counts doctor and engineer among her career aspirations (along with rock star and veterinarian). And my 11-year-old son names among his role models geneticist Professor Suzanne Cory and physicist Professor Tanya Monro. Why? Because they’ve both met a number of women working in science and technology, including those two high-achieving professors. Because they have shelves full of books and games featuring women scientists, engineers and maths whizzes as lead characters. Because their parents routinely show them true stories featuring women working in STEM – as researchers, lab assistants, teachers, policy-makers, entrepreneurs and communicators. Because, for them, the stereotypical scientist is just as likely to be a woman as they are a man.

Kylie Walker

Chief Executive Officer, Science & Technology Australia

Read next: Pip Marlow, Managing Director of Microsoft Australia, on encouraging girls in STEM and the value of maths to future careers.

People and careers: Meet women who’ve paved brilliant careers in STEM here, find further success stories here and explore your own career options at postgradfutures.com.

Spread the word: Help Australian women achieve successful careers in STEM! Share this piece on women in STEM using the social media buttons below.

More Thought Leaders: Click here to go back to the Thought Leadership Series homepage, or start reading the Graduate Futures Thought Leadership Series here.