Simone McCarthy

It was a fantastic opportunity to attend Science Meets Parliament last week in Canberra as well as the 3 day online professional development training. This event encouraged scientists to engage effectively with policy makers and advocate for their research in order to have impact.

It was incredibly valuable to be able to put advocacy into action and think strategically about our research and our asks. In public health, I feel we are able to communicate our research quite well to any audience, but this event made us work on our elevator pitch, think about our goals, and determine the best way to have impact in a short meeting with a politician. I was prepared for a range of different responses from my meeting with Labour MP Dr Mike Freelander but was pleasantly surprised he felt strongly about the need for gambling reform and action on the powerful gambling industry. This really reiterated to me that there are alleys throughout parliament and someone like Dr Mike with a health background is useful to connect to, even if his party isn’t as strong on this issue as we’d like. It was also great to have him post the picture of our group on his Facebook page! The whole experience demystified the process of engaging with politicians as they are not as intimidating as I would have thought and I think they definitely see the value in the scientific community as much as we see the value in working with them! It was great to be able to get health research on the agenda amongst a lot of great work being done in science.

Hannah Pitt

Science Meets Parliament, which was in its 23rd year, brought together Australia’s leading and emerging scientists. It was an incredible privilege to be able to attend the event, which consisted of three days of online training and one day at Parliament House. I found the training to be a valuable refresher and it reinforced a lot of the principles that we are told about in public health advocacy and provided us with practical examples of how to achieve this. This included the importance of translating your research in clear and practical ways and to have short, sharp messages for action. They encouraged scientists to write submissions for parliamentary inquiries, to create an advocacy strategy which enabled a wide reach, and to seek out politicians and their advisors who might benefit from hearing about your research. We then took this knowledge with us to Parliament House, where we were lucky enough to hear from Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr Cathy Foley and ANU VC (and noble prize winner) Professor Brian Schmidt. They pushed us to be creative in our thinking when trying to solve diverse and complex problems. I was also able to go to the National Press Club and hear about the direction that the Minister for Science and Technology will be taking, while addressing huge questions relating to AUKUS and the future of AI. Networking opportunities were prominent throughout the day, which enabled discussions with people from all different areas of science and technology including nuclear radioactivity, data privacy, malaria vaccines, and microbiology. I felt like it was a great opportunity to be able to test out our ability to make our research sound interesting and relevant, even though I felt a little out of my depth among these ‘real’ scientists.

My meeting was with Greens Senator Penny Allman-Payne. Although she had to race off when the bells started to ring (something the training can never quite prepare you for), we had a great discussion around her passion for improving the lives of young people in regional communities.

Overall, I had a fantastic time at Science Meets Parliament and really recommend the opportunity to people who want to have real world impact. It was incredible to gain an insight into the parliamentary system, and was definitely an experience witnessing question time. I feel much more confident in my ability to translate my research, approach and discuss key issues with politicians, and make connections with people who might not be directly in my field. I’d like to thank IHT for supporting this opportunity and the professional development of early career researchers.

Ella Robinson

Attending Science Meets Parliament 2023 was an incredible opportunity to not only learn about how to effectively engage with parliamentarians and policy advisors, but also to meet with policymakers in Canberra. The online training in the lead up to the visit to Canberra provided some excellent tips on how to pitch research for a policymaker audience. Importantly, the training also had a focus on how to build relationships with policy makers and better connect our research findings to issues that policy makers care about. We had the opportunity to visit Parliament House and hear from inspiring science leaders, including Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr Kathy Foley and Nobel Laureate Professor Brian Schmidt, on where they see the future of science. We also had the opportunity to sit in on Question Time which provided a unique experience to watch parliamentarians in action! I met with Labor Senator Karen Grogan, along with two other researchers, and we had an interesting conversation around Labor’s proposal to introduce caps and disclosure requirements around political donations in an attempt to restrict powerful industry influence over government.

Science Meets Parliament had a huge turnout for 2023 and provided a great forum for scientists from all over Australia to come together and network with each other and parliamentarians. Key takeaways for me were around the need for us as researchers/scientists to be strategic in how we advocate for policy change, how we craft consistent messaging and how we build and maintain relationships with policy makers.

Vidanka Vasilevski

The Science Meets Parliament (SMP) event involved over 500 delegates from various research institutions and 87 MPs were involved in meetings with delegates to share their research interests. The event included 3 days online training and a one day in-person conference and gala dinner at Parliament House in Canberra. The online training included a number of sessions with MPs, MP advisors, researchers and science communications professionals which covered key tips for meeting with MPs and facilitating ongoing engagement, preparing your pitch to parliamentarians, useful science communication strategies for getting your message across to broader audiences, and key directions and priorities for Australian research. The in-person event included discussion panels with esteemed scientists, industry representatives and parliamentarians. We also had the opportunity to observe question time in the House of Representatives, which was an eye-opening account of the behaviour of our country’s leaders!

The most exciting part of the day was having the opportunity to meet with an MP to share our ‘pitch’ and discuss our research interests. The overall experience helped demystify and build confidence in the process of engaging with MPs. It was a valuable experience for understanding how to get your message across to the right people.

Christina Zorbas

Science Meets Parliament is a unique opportunity to network and learn from a diverse range of discipline leaders and see the inner workings of government policy. The panel sessions were high-energy and focused on several topics, from hearing parliamentarians’ thoughts on how they try to work with scientists and learning about effective pitching and communication, to understanding what good scientific policy leadership looks like. This included insights shared by the Minister for Science, the Chief of Science, a previous Nobel laureate, and the mathematician with the highest IQ in the world… It was pretty cool to see the silos broken across sectors for a few days and see all actors come together in unity. The program engaged about 40% (n=87) of Parliamentarians and their staff this year. Many scientists and parliamentarians keenly attend this event annually to celebrate science.

Overall, the training reinforced the importance of being able to communicate research and having inclusive messaging that anyone in the community can pick up. There’s also a need for us to do more work to understand our key players and be persistent in trying to build genuine relationships with policy actors and leaders in this space, including Science and Technology Australia. To drive innovation in research, we were also encouraged to think about our 25-year vision instead of the incremental steps that we often work towards through shorter-term research programs.

Top tips from our attendees

  • Meeting Parliamentarians is about relationship building – “You wouldn’t ask to get married on the first date” so don’t go too big with your policy asks.
  • Be quick and efficient in sharing your story and asking Parliamentarians about their interests – they don’t have a lot of spare time when they’re (literally) running to vote in Parliament.
  • Spend time with the broader research team and any key stakeholders getting on the same page and agreeing on a shared purpose because the collective voice matters, and it is important to sing from the same song sheet.
  • When meeting politicians or writing parliamentary inquiry submissions use stories to provide evidence in a way that’s memorable and find case studies that are illustrative to really get the message across. This can all help you to build your profile as a go to person on this topic.
  • Research your MP (read their maiden speech) and ensure your ‘pitch’ aligns with their key values, and investigate the relevance of your research to their local electorate
  • Leave a ‘prop’ with them to make you memorable and encourage follow up discussion
  • Have clear areas for action. During your meeting, briefly summarised the type of work that you are involved in and direct the conversation around what you can do for the politician and what they could do for you, such as suggesting that they could incorporate some of your research in the speeches they do in parliament.
  • Don’t forget about the advisors. The advisors are often the contact person for the politician, and they are the ones who will reach out for evidence or advice on a subject. It is just as important to make a good impression with the advisor as it is with the politician.
  • Be clear and concise on your pitch and policy asks (don’t bring a shopping list of asks to the meeting) – one tip was to frame your pitch around:
    • mind – stimulate interest in the topic
    • money – convince them that what you are talking about will make or save money
    • meaning – provide an emotional anchor for the person you are talking to