Policy internship at the Australian Academy of Science

Earlier this year, I was very fortunate to join the Australian Academy of Science for a 3 month internship in the Academy’s Science Policy team. The internship was for first of its kind offered by the Academy, and provided me with a unique opportunity to learn about its policy and advocacy work.

I was attracted to the internship as I wanted to develop a much broader appreciation of science policy in Australia, and to gain an understanding of the diversity of issues the science sector as a whole is grappling with. Having worked within the university sector over the entirety of my career so far, I knew there would be a huge benefit in stepping out of that space at least momentarily, and to see to see things from another perspective.

Science is a very active and topical policy issue in Australia at the moment. We are in an election year, science and innovation are firmly on the current Government’s agenda, the Australian Research Council is developing measures of research impact and engagement, and reviews of Australia’s research training system and funding arrangements and have very recently been completed.  On top of all this, equity and diversity in science and Australia’s future capability in climate science are major issues currently in the spotlight.

With all of this activity, you can imagine that the Academy’s Science Policy team has been rather busy! And that’s absolutely the case. As part of my internship, I analysed over 180 policy documents that the Academy has published since 2003. In the last two years alone, over 50 policy relevant submissions, commentaries and report have been released by the Academy, including several pieces authored by the EMCR Forum and the National Committees of Science.

Figure 1. Total policy documents published by the Academy of Science 2003-2015, including submissions to Government inquiries, and other reports, commentaries and statements

Over the years, the Academy has highlighted the crucial role that science plays in underpinning Australia’s economy – now, and even more so in the future. Without a scientifically literate and skilled workforce, we can’t expect to be particularly innovative or agile. A key part of building a knowledge based economy – and obviously I say this with clear self-interest – is to remove unnecessary barriers preventing early and mid-career researchers from remaining in the scientific workforce.

With the recent commencement of the SAGE initiative, gender equity in science is now receiving a lot of deserved attention. However, statements of policy intent need to be followed by real policy action, and a genuine commitment by research organisations to deal with the institutional and unconscious biases which prevent the full and equal participation in science by diverse individuals.

Continuing reports about a possible oversupply of PhD graduates are also very concerning for the scientific community. There’s a need to rethink and restructure research training in Australia, which is still primarily training PhD students for a career in academia – despite the sector’s worsening issues with job scarcity and insecurity. This is why I’m encouraged by the findings of the research training review led by ACOLA, which recommended that PhD students be provided the opportunity to participate in an industry placement or internship during their candidature. Formalising this process within the university system would help to expose PhD students to a broader range of industries, experiences and networks, and to better equip graduates to excel in careers within all sectors of society.

In addition to my work with the Science Policy team, during my internship I was also fortunate to participate in the launch of the recommendations report from the 2015 Theo Murphy High Flyers Think Tank. It was really interesting for me to observe the excellent work of the Academy’s media and communications team, and gave me a much greater appreciation of why the Think Tanks are such a great opportunity for EMCRs to participate in (a LOT of potential exposure for your research!). I also took part in the recent Future Earth Australia workshop, which brought together 100 participants from diverse disciplines and professions over two days at the Shine Dome in Canberra.

I learned a lot from my time at the Australian Academy of Science, and I most definitely have a better appreciation of the opportunities and challenges facing science policy in Australia as a result of my internship.

The Academy is now advertising for Policy Internship position starting mid-2016: https://www.science.org.au/about-us/careers/policy-internship

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