Her job is to get scientific expertise into the heads of decision-makers.
Catherine Ball is an analyst for the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee in the United Kingdom. She explains the talents needed in a science-policy post.
What does 'science policy' mean?
It means feeding in scientific expertise to enable policy decisions to be made using scientific evidence. It also means ensuring that the best scientific research can happen, and making decisions about research funding, the publishing landscape and diversity.
What does your role involve?
I research topics that the committee is discussing — I explore subjects that members can look into, draw out key areas of investigation and identify people in the academic community to contribute feedback. I also help to draft reports of enquiries and to draw up recommendations for the committee to include in its reports to the UK government.
What experience did you need?
I realized that science communication was the skill I would most need to hone. When writing a thesis or a scientific paper, you use specific terminology. When writing for a policy audience, you need to be able to communicate the science in a very different, more accessible way. At the University of Oxford, UK, I wrote a section of my research group's website that explained our work to non-scientists, and I wrote a review of my area of research (C. J. Ball and M. C. Willis Eur. J. Organ. Chem. 2013, 425–441; 2013). I also shadowed at the UK Government Office for Science and attended a committee meeting of the House of Lords.
What advice do you have for anyone who hopes to move into science policy?
It's not like academia, where the traditional career path for a scientist is set in stone. Each person in policy will have found a different way in — often a quite unusual and serendipitous one. So talk to as many people as possible. Read broadly about science policy, and keep up to date with developments.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity; see go.nature.com/ssnkdg for more.
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Gould, J. Trade talk: Policy analyst. Nature 527, 266 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1038/nj7577-266a