Blog 2: Engaging with Parliament
During my 3-month internship at the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST), I was responsible for researching and producing a Parliamentary briefing document, called a “POSTnote” about a Biology and Health topic (see Blog Post 1).
POST select science topics to research that currently are, or soon will be, important in Parliamentary debates. They aim to provide balanced and impartial evidence surrounding these important issues to Parliamentarians, who may not have a background in science or technology, and need to understand the subject to make informed policy decisions.
The POST board, which is made up of MPs, Lords and external experts, finalise the ideas for research notes. Once the topics are agreed upon, interns, who are usually PhD students or Post-docs, spend 3 months researching and producing a POSTnote, under the supervision of POST advisors. These 4-page POSTnotes summarise one of these important science issues. They are produced through extensive research, including interviews with experts, and reviews of the scientific literature.
As an intern in the Biology and Health section of POST, I was offered a variety of pre-approved topics to write my POSTnote about. I chose to research Young People’s Mental Health Services, as this is an issue that is close to my heart, and I wanted to do something completely different to my DPhil in evolutionary microbiology! There was a huge variety of scientific issues being researched by the other interns in my office, ranging from rising sea levels to fake news!
I started off my research by speaking with the mental health specialist librarian at the House of Commons Library, who helped to get me on the right track. I was then able to interview a huge variety of people, from mental health charities to public health bodies, and from medical professionals to academic researchers. I found that people are very quick to respond to an official Parliamentary email address!
As mental health is currently an important topic in Parliament, I was also able to attend relevant Parliamentary meetings, including some APPG meetings (All Party Parliamentary Group meetings). APPGs are informal groups of MPs/Peers, containing representatives from multiple political parties who join together to tackle a particular issue. During my internship, there was an inquiry by the Health select committee and the Education committee into the role of education in children’s mental health, which I was able to attend. Many important people came to give evidence at these meetings, including Lords, Dames, Professors and TV personalities. Teachers, scientists, charity workers and NHS staff also were called to give evidence, which included their own personal experiences and opinions of the importance of education in children’s mental health. This included discussing how the education system could be altered to improve children’s mental health, and how education can have both a positive and negative effect on mental health. It was an eye-opening experience see how scientific evidence is presented to parliamentarians, through first-hand accounts of real-world experiences.
I also attended a meeting of the Parliamentary Science Select Committee which focussed on mental health, and a networking event held by the APPG on Suicide and Self-Harm, where I met Hussain Manawer; poet, mental health advocate and future British astronaut! Hussain gave a truly inspirational speech about his experiences with mental health. His message was that mental health can affect EVERYBODY, no matter who they are. In fact, 1 in 4 people will be experience mental health problems, so if you know 4 people that you care about, you should care about mental health! Here’s a link to one of his videos.
My experience of working in Parliament is that it’s really really hard to get anything done when it comes to changing policy! However, it was great to see so many people who were trying to make positive changes, with at least 4 different select committees focussing on mental health during the 3 months of my internship.
Blog 1 Science and Parliament: http://www.bangscience.org/2017/07/internship-at-post-blog-1/
Blog 3 Working in Parliament: http://www.bangscience.org/2017/09/internship-at-post-blog-3/
Image from https://twitter.com/CommonsHealth