health research in a changing policy environment

Guest post by Ellen Buckley, Research Technician and PhD Staff Candidate, Department of Neuroscience and member of the Medicine, Dentistry and Health’s Research in Policy Group.


What is the current role of researchers in policy-making and how might or should this change in the future?

What are the routes to how research becomes incorporated into policy?

Why does policy not always reflect research evidence?

What are the range of policy careers available within universities, Government, NGOs and charities?

How might policy like changes to funding linked to BREXIT affect our research?

We are a group of early career researchers, members of the Medical School’s Research Staff Association (MDH RSA), and Postgraduate Society (MPGS) and we decided that we wanted to be better informed on these questions. So we had the idea of organising a community within the Faculty of Medicine and Dental Health where we can discuss life at the research-policy interface, and how to bridge that gap in our careers. To test the waters we organised a lunchtime event on how policy fits within health research. We had a great response – so watch this space for further events!

rip-2016We invited talks from:

  • Cliona Boyle – Institution Impact Coordinator, Research and Innovation Services (R&IS).
  • Helen Hicks – Chair of the Faculty of Science’s Science in Policy group
  • Mark Matthews – Associate Fellow, The Sir Bernard Crick Centre for the Public Understanding of Politics

“Impact isn’t a linear thing. It is interdisciplinary. It’s about fixing the status quo.”

Working in R&IS, Cliona works with researchers wanting to take their research outside the university. Over the course of the meeting, it was apparent that researchers can and should be constantly considering the impact potential of their research. To really have an impact, it isn’t enough to simply publish a paper in a high impact journal and hope people read it; you have to become an advocate for your research and discipline.

There are various ways this is possible whether it be giving technical advice, ensuring media coverage (including Twitter and blogs), liaising with charities and parliamentary champions or even undertaking an fellowship at the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology

This is what Helen did during her PhD. For Government to make well-informed policy decisions, our politicians must have well balanced, up to date evidence. Although politicians are constantly being lobbied by charities and the scientific community, only 4% politicians come from a scientific background and very few have the time to research every topic that is put before them. To combat this, All Party Parliamentary Groups and Select Committees for specific interests look to the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology as well as the Parliamentary Libraries to provide information on upcoming topics via POSTnotes and seminars.

“POST notes are what the MPs read on the train. So your evidence has to be more interesting than a sausage sandwich.”

For example, this post note on sugar and public health

In January, we will running a POST note competition across the Faculties of Science and Medicine and Dental Health – to give a taste of what producing one is like. (Oh, and there will be a £500 prize!)

But anyone can contribute evidence to parliament even without being an “expert” on the given topic, making it a good way to get involved. As an academic researcher, intelligent opinions are always welcomed especially when related to your research topic.

Mark meanwhile has made a career out of advising governments, universities and non-profit organisations. It has never been more important to build international relationships and work with external partners as well as being clear and innovative in the way we engage with the public and politicians.

We asked Mark, what if early career researchers want career in policy? What can they do now in their PhD to make the jump to a policy career? His advice was:

  1.  Don’t advocate too much but be circumspect and meritocratic. And demonstrate a broad outlook
  2.  Emphasise complementary skills. Don’t be too wedded to what you did in your PhD.
  3.  Get involved with collaborations as well as internship and shadowing opportunities to get experience.
  4.  Outreach with public can demonstrate you can communicate in a clear way.
  5.  Get you name talked about as a credible person who is broad and flexible. Be a nomad. Easy to work with.

Collaboration across the research-policy interface is often the key to success in research, to encourage and pursue progress. Following the anti-intellectual rhetoric of the EU referendum campaign and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, going into the New Year it seems more important than ever to consider the impact of public policy changes on health research and just how our research can impact policy. We here in the Faculty of Medicine and Dental Health are naturally, more interested than ever in working closely with our collaborators, engaging with the public and politicians clearly and in innovative ways and are looking forward to running more events like this one.

Science in Policy POSTnote competition:

Where – Council Room, Firth Court

When – 24th January, 2pm-5pm

Prizes – 1st: £500, 2nd: £250, 3rd: Parliamentary goody-bags

Further information:

Eventbrite page:


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