The Statistical Society of Australia, together with the NSW Branch and the QLD Branch sponsored two members of the Society to attend this year’s Science Meets Parliament, organised by Science & Technology Australia.
Here are their reports:
Science Meets the Parliament 2018
Report by Lee Jones
I was very happy and grateful to represent the Statistical Society of Australia (SSA) and Queensland University of Technology (QUT) at Science Meets the Parliament 2018. This was held in Canberra, from February 13-14, 2018 and provided a chance for professionals in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) to network with each other but more importantly, to engage with politicians in order to highlight the importance of STEM research to the Australian community. As a Biostatistician from the Research Methods Group within the Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation (IHBI) at QUT, meeting and networking with world leading researchers will most probably be one of my major highlights of 2018.
The first day started with an opening address by Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel AO and finished with preparations for our meeting with parliamentarians the following day. Our preparation involved honing an elevator pitch. Can you articulate what you do clearly in 3 minutes? 2 minutes? or even 30 seconds? Making my pitch adaptable was a valuable lesson to have learned. It helped me to identify my key message and challenged me to think about the level of detail required to present a coherent message all wrapped in a short little package! Easy, right? Ha!
At the Gala dinner, I was pleased to be seated with the Labor Member for Macarthur, Dr Mike Freelander and his charming wife. Dr Freelander was a paediatrician before becoming an MP. At dinner the Hon. Bill Shorten, leader of the opposition, delivered a speech committing to spending 3% of GDP on research. Also speaking, was The Hon Senator Michaelia Cash, Minister for Jobs and Innovation who announced the doubling of the Superstars of STEM program to encourage young women to actively choose a career in STEM. Seated amongst eminent researchers and politicians, meant that dinner conversation was noteworthy and thought-provoking with discussions with one scientist responsible for unscrambling the egg and another researcher working on hydrogen fuel- cell cars.
The second day focussed on meeting and pitching to our delegated parliamentarians. Our group was matched with The Hon Karen Andrews, Assistant Minister for Education and Vocational Skills. We spent 40 minutes with Minister Andrews and concentrated on the theme of inspiring young people to engage in STEM. My pitch involved promoting a career in biostatistics as being diverse and rewarding with the ability to work over many amazing projects. I was aided in this explanation by a 3D printed leg scaffold, provided by Professor Dietmar Hutmacher from the Institute of Health and Biomedical innovation at QUT. This remarkable ARC funded project involved transplanting a 3D printed shinbone into the leg of a man who faced amputation. In contrast to a more traditional implant, this implant is slowly integrated in the patient’s body with living tissue incorporated into the scaffold. This project demonstrates how multidisciplinary teams made up of clinicians, researchers, engineers and statisticians, can produce life changing personalised medicine.
Over the two days of Science Meets the Parliament, some key themes emerged from the speakers and insightful discussion panels. These were: (i) the need to engage young people in STEM, with a greater focus on retaining women and people from diverse cultural backgrounds to maximise innovative solutions to problems, and (ii) the need for a bipartisan approach to science funding to provide job security and allow researchers the support required to transform the world with science and technology. Although no one has all the answers, it was reassuring that our politicians are aware of the challenges faced in STEM and are committed to be a part of the solution.
For me, the most enjoyable part of Science Meets the Parliament was meeting and hearing the stories of people from a wide variety of backgrounds including defence, mining, Google and universities just to name a few. It also allowed me to connect to other statisticians and mathematicians while widening my networks throughout the country. I would like to thank the SSA for providing financial support to attend SMP and Professor Hutmacher for providing an impressive “prop”. The prop seemed to be a great discussion tool and an innovative, very visual way to engage with parliamentarians. In the weeks following SMP, I have sent and received follow-up emails from researchers and politicians and have been impressed with how friendly and approachable everyone has been. I would like to encourage young statisticians to become involved in your local branch of SSA, come along to talks. Please put yourself out there, talk about the great work you do, connect with your peers and build your networks.
In the words of Arthur C. Clarke… “Magic is just science we don’t understand yet”.
President of the QLD branch of the Statistical Society of Australia and Biostatistician from the Research Methods Group within IHBI at QUT.
Report by Mahrita Harahap
This year’s SmP was hosted at the National Gallery of Australia and Parliament House. More than 200 scientists, technologists and other STEM professionals attended to discuss the governmental policies involving STEM.
On day one, we met and listened to some leading experts in STEM who have been involved in policy advising, discussing over panel discussions and presentations about why it is important that scientists . We first heard from the Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel. He started off with mentioning the great historical scientists like Isaac Newton, were also involved in the political discourse during his time. His key message was how science and politics is like a marriage, they have to communicate with each other in order to work through the problems for the greater good.
Throughout the day, there were panel discussions by well-known scientists in Australia on the importance of informing parliamentarians in understanding science to make well based decisions on policies. There were also some training sessions on how to make our mark at parliamentary inquiries and preparing our pitch for the next day.
My main agenda was to get the importance of encouraging students to undertake mathematics in Years 11 and 12 (since it is not compulsory in Australia) across to the Parliamentarians. We need to benchmark with the rest of the world and realise Mathematics, like English, is a base subject of our future workforce. A student making the decision not to study maths as early as high school is unknowingly precluding themselves from access to jobs with the highest growth rates and the highest future earning potential. The problem with mathematics not being compulsory in Australia is a multidimensional problem. We need to change the westernised attitude to taking up Maths, give our teachers the right education, reward them fairly for it and change the school curriculum to world standard.
The day ended with a gala dinner in the Great Hall of Parliament where we heard from the Shadow Minister Bill Shorten and the Assistant Minister for Jobs and Innovation, Michaela Cash talk about their vision for STEM in the future. The dinner was also the first chance to meet parliamentarians. I was seated next to Mr Tony Zappia, the Member of Parliament for Makin, we discussed about the history of Mathematics being compulsory back in his day.
On day two we get assigned to meet face to face with a parliamentarian interested in our field in their own office. I got assigned to Meryl Swanson, the Member of Parliament of Paterson and had the opportunity to share our enthusiasm for science and informed her about my PhD work on applying statistical methods in environmental science processes. She was genuinely interested in climate change issues as it was a big issue affecting her electorate. We then took a selfie together and traded twitter accounts. After the meeting, we got to have lunch at the National Press Club hearing Professor Emma Johnston give a public address about the Science in Parliament event. This was exciting as we were being filmed on national television dining in on amazing food. After the lunch, science delegates had the opportunity to witness Question Time in Parliament. I must say though, you do witness an ugly side of humanity watching Parliamentarians shout on top of each other during Question Time like school children and you start to wonder if anything actually gets achieved during this time.
Later on the afternoon, there was a Parliamentary Forum with Greens Science spokesperson Adam Bandt MP, Shadow Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research Senator the Hon Kim Carr, the Assistant Minister for Vocational Education and Skills the Hon Karen Andrews and Shadow Minister for Defence the Hon Richard Marles. Adam Bandt said something during this panel discussion that I resonated with. He said “My dream is that politicians treat the science budget with as much reverence as the defence budget” and I agree.
I took advantage of the ample opportunities to meet other delegates working in STEM and made some connections through networking at this event. This was definitely an eye-opening and delightful experience attending Science Meets Parliament 2018. Thank you to The Statistical Society of Australia for making this possible. I encourage all statisticians to try attend the next upcoming Science Meets Parliament so we can discuss with as many Parliamentarians as we can on how important it is to understand mathematics and statistics in our society for the future benefit of this country.
By Mahrita Harahap
The University of Technology Sydney