So before I know it, I’ve spent one month working at POST (the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology) and what a month it’s been! Leaving Exeter and moving back to the big smoke, working in a new office with new colleagues, and breaking out of the academic bubble for a bit. It’s been a bit of a blur, but so far so good…
I’m working at POST as part of a fellowship which is supported by the British Ecological Society and allows me to work there for 3 months to write a POSTnote. In case you’re wondering what POST or a POSTnote is, let me fill you in. POST is essentially parliament’s in-house source of science advice, providing independent and balanced analyses of public policy issues related to science and technology. By doing this, it provides MPs and Peers with information in an accessible and timely way that can help to increase understanding and awareness on often-complex topics. A board of parliamentarians and external experts oversees the work of POST. And, a myth buster – we don’t actually work inside Westminster Palace – we work further up the road. So not quite as fancy as you might imagine, but we do get a hall pass for the whole estate!
POSTnotes are one of the main mechanisms through which POST provides this information, and these are four-page briefings that summarise current knowledge on a topic. To go about producing one is a well-formulated step-by-step process that I’m currently in the middle of. It normally starts with a desk based literature review to help develop the scope of the POSTnote and get you up to speed on what topics you’ll cover. The next step, which I’m doing at the moment, involves interviewing relevant stakeholders from academia, industry, government and the third sector to get their perspectives and essentially help to flesh the POSTnote out. I’m really enjoying this part!
When I first found out I had got the fellowship (which, by the way, was my second time applying so always worth persevering for something you want!), it was still a bit uncertain as to what my topic would be about. But luckily for me – and it was a bit pot luck really – the topic is Fisheries Management! I can’t begin to tell you how unbelievably exciting it is to be a fisheries scientist working in Parliament at such a time when fisheries really is such a hot topic. It’s not often that fisheries have quite the interest and debate they are receiving at the moment, so it’s super interesting to be working right in the middle of it. The scope of the note is quite broad (you can get an idea of what I’m writing about here) and whilst Brexit is an inevitable focus I am keen to try and keep wider governmental policies and agendas in mind so that it has a bit more longevity. Trying to fit everything into 4 pages is going to be a huge challenge!
As part of the work I’m really fortunate to be able to interview loads of different people and having an @parliament.uk email address means you can contact people right at the top and talk to them, which is something you don’t get to do everyday! I’ve spoken to lots of lovely people already, and it’s been interesting to hear their views and perspectives. Aside from doing interviews, I’ve also managed to go to some events and meetings to help broaden my understanding of the topics and get more information. I attended the Best Practices in World Fisheries conference in which we heard about different fisheries management systems from around the world and considered how some of their practices may be incorporated into future UK management. It was a great event with many different people from various sectors, which made for some thought-provoking conversations. I also went to the Seafish Common Languages meeting which they hold a few times a year, which gave me a good opportunity to network and also hear views from the seafood sector which I haven’t until this point had much involvement with.
Aside from these meetings, I couldn’t not talk about the fact that I also have a free hall pass for all of Westminster! It’s so exciting! I can’t believe that I can turn up to debates or events that are happening within the palace – it’s a real privilege I’m still pinching myself about. In November there were a few things on that I went to – an event showcasing Brexit related social and economic research in Portcullis House, a debate about ‘The UK’s involvement in degradation of the marine environment’, and the first opening session for the EFRA committee’s inquiry on ‘Fisheries’. I sadly missed their next oral evidence session, but that’s what Parliament TV is for!
It’s nice to say that the ‘Blue Planet effect’ is live and kicking in Westminster – so many MPs have referenced it! It’s also been eye opening, particularly at the marine degradation debate, about how well informed some MPs are about some of these marine issues. Before I started working here I obviously knew that they had a huge amount of different things to be dealing with, but now I’m exposed to the daily updates about what’s happening across Westminster each day, through emails or flashing up on screens in the office, it’s given me a new appreciation for the variety and amount of things they have to consider. It was encouraging to see many MPs speaking passionately about the marine environment, and it also made me realise just how important it is to communicate science issues effectively to ensure they are heard or considered – something I’m hoping to learn more about whilst I’m here!
For now I think I’ve filled you in enough – December looks full of more interviews, some more debates and even some carols in Westminster Hall! And today I’m off to watch PMQs! Quickly though as a bit of a side note, I also wanted to mention the other thing I did this month which was to attend an ICES course in Copenhagen as part of my PhD work. The course was focused on Bayesian Network Analysis and has been something that’s been on my ‘to-do’ list for a while. It gave me a really good initial understanding of what BNs actually are, the contexts which you can use it in and lots of ideas for future projects! I would definitely recommend the course to anyone interested in learning Bayesian, it wasn’t as scary as I initially thought…!