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By Sritika Chowdhury
The Voice of the Future (VOF), organised by the Royal Society of Biology, is a unique event that offers students and young scientists the chance to put forward their questions on scientific policies and issues to key political figures in the UK. YSS Committee member Sritika Chowdhury represented the Royal Statistical Society at this year’s event held on 12th March 2019, at the Houses of Parliament.
On a very busy day for the UK Parliament, representatives from various societies and high schools were given the opportunity to question members of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee. This included, Norman Lamb, Vicky Ford, Stephen Metcalfe and Carol Monaghan (the Government Chief Scientific Adviser), Sir Patrick Vallance(Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation), Chris Skidmore, Chi Onwurah a(Shadow Minister for Industrial Strategy, Science and Innovation).
The event was opened by the Speaker of the House of Commons, Rt Hon John Bercow MP, who spoke enthusiastically about the importance of science in our lives and encouraged the uptake of science, mathematics and engineering subjects by young students.
The questions posed were diverse, ranging from the impact of Brexit on UK’s role in various EU funded science and policy programmes, to the actions taken by school children to safeguard their future on climate change. Vicky Ford spoke about encouraging young girls in school to pursue careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) to promote more jobs, happier and better quality of lives. Chi Onwurah also emphasised the need for additional funding to ensure there are suitable pathways into STEM that do not require STEM degrees. The Select Committee emphasised the importance of collectively tackling issues such as climate change, the need to increase investment in research and development to 2.5% of GDP, and the impact of Brexit on future research.
I asked the Committee a question about the impact of big data and machine learning techniques on our daily lives and the need for appropriate regulation. Sir Patrick Vallance acknowledged the need to test, pilot and regulate such techniques through working groups set up for regulation of innovation.
Overall, it was an interesting and inspiring event that showcased the extent to which politicians value science and their commitment towards young scientists. The whole session was an eye-opening experience, and one I would highly recommend to anyone interested in science, society and policy.
A full audio of this year’s Voice of the Future event is available on Parliament TV Live.