Three AARNet staff members were among around 200 members of the scientific community attending this year’s annual Science Meets Parliament event (SmP2017) in Canberra on 21 and 22 March. The two-day gathering is hosted by peak body Science & Technology Australia (STA) and included a day of professional development, a gala dinner in the Great Hall of Parliament, a televised National Press Club address, and a day at Parliament House, where delegates met privately with parliamentarians, attended a parliamentary forum and enjoyed a farewell cocktail party with the Parliamentary Friends of Science.
Ingrid Mason, AARNet eResearch Deployment Strategist, who attended along with Peter Elford, Director, eResearch and Government Relations and Brett Rosolen,, eResearch Data Program Manager, reports on the experience:
On Day One I sat between Associate Professor Andrew Woodward (a computer scientist from Flinders University concerned with cybersecurity) and Dr Karin Nordstrom (a neuroscientist concerned with motion vision) and there was no doubt that lay-communication of science is a complex matter. Dr Nordstrom and Associate Professor Woodward were at Science Meets Parliament representing the Australian Neuroscience Society and Australian Council of Deans of Information and Communication Technology respectively. AARNet representatives were there representing the interests of AARNet shareholders and members (and the investment in the NREN).
SmP participants had very different challenges around explaining the importance and value of the science and research infrastructure they were at SmP to promote, both to each other and to parliamentarians.
In an afternoon session SmP participants were put into groups to speak about their subject for two minutes, one minute, 30 seconds and 15 seconds. It became clear that a quick quotation of a significant statistical trend, a lively anecdote or evocative verbs served to get the attention of others in the group. That was a sure step towards a conversation that would further the understanding how scientific skills and research (and NRENs) advance scholarly knowledge. This short test and several others (including describing what a mobile phone is and does to a person from the seventeenth century) on Day One helped the SmP participants meet new colleagues, network, and prepare for their meetings with a parliamentarian.
At the Gala dinner that evening the speeches from the SmP president and political representatives (Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science – Arthur Sinodinos and Opposition Leader – Bill Shorten) celebrated the ten years of SmP and the long term investment (ten years) in research infrastructure through NCRIS to feature in the 2017 budget.
The SmP participants were well prepped and primed for their meetings with the parliamentarians on Day Two. An incredible amount of organisation, thanks to STA, ensured those meetings took place, in and around the busy and ever-changing schedule of federal politics, and where political, scientific and infrastructure interests coincided.
Additional adventures included attending the Press Club for lunch and the new Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Senator the Hon Arthur Sinodinos’s address, sitting in on Question Time, and listening to panel sessions with politicians, all delivering a range of insights into political minds and dynamics.
SmP was a superb opportunity to grapple with political dialogue, and learn how to draw scientific research in to inform critical societal processes and be politically active.
AARNet provided free wifi at the venues for the event.