Science policy: what, why and how

A speaker at the 2021 Academy of Medical Sciences’ FORUM, Sir Colin Dollery lecture.

As this year’s policy internships for MRC-funded students open, we explore why researchers benefit from getting involved in science policy and how to take part.

When I was an intern on the Medical Research Council (MRC) Academy of Medical Sciences policy internship programme in 2021, science policy was described to me as a two-way process.

This involves ‘science for policy’ on one side and ‘policy for science’ on the other. Although not always that clear-cut, it can be useful to make this distinction.

Science for policy

Policymakers need to have access to, and understand, the scientific evidence related to their policy areas.

At the Academy of Medical Sciences, our work focusses on the translation of research into effective evidence-based policy that will improve people’s health. We do this by collaborating across the policy landscape, working with:

  • our fellowship
  • the wider scientific community
  • patients
  • members of the public
  • government
  • and other organisations.

I now work as a Policy Officer delivering some of the academy’s ‘science for policy’ projects, covering issues such as:

To ensure that the scientific evidence that feeds into policy is as strong as it can be, we need a well-funded, resourced and multi-disciplinary scientific ecosystem. This is where ‘policy for science’ comes in.

Policy for science

We engage multiple stakeholders to communicate the benefits of research and to ensure their policies promote the conduct of high-quality and impactful research.

These stakeholders include:

  • government
  • funders
  • regulators
  • industry
  • charities
  • universities
  • the National Health Service (NHS).

In addition to supporting the development of evidence-based policy, high-quality research is also good for the economy (PDF, 148KB).

Clinical research activity in the NHS delivers clear benefits (PDF, 1MB) to patients, such as improved outcomes and lower mortality rates, and to the NHS and its workforce.

The Academy of Medical Sciences policy team is currently convening a working group of experts to explore how to guarantee the long-term sustainability of the UK’s health research ecosystem.

We are also calling on the government to ensure that NHS organisations are mandated to conduct clinical research (PDF, 337KB).

Taking an active role

The work of all researchers, regardless of their career-stage or discipline, can impact and be affected by policy. Taking an active role in science policy enables researchers to maximise the impact of their work and help shape the future landscape of research in the UK.

It can also benefit your own research career, allowing you to connect with other researchers and professionals working in other sectors. And to identify research questions that will generate high impact results.

Getting involved in policy during my PhD, including through the policy internship scheme, enabled me to recognise how my research fit into the wider landscape of health policy and research.

It helped me to form connections with people in research and policy within the UK and internationally. And most importantly, it opened a door to a new career that allows me to combine my interests in:

  • research
  • health policy
  • politics
  • equality
  • science communication.

How to get involved

There are lots of ways that researchers can get involved in science policy, which include:

If you are a student, you can:

Find out more

Find out how to apply to the MRC, Academy of Medical Sciences internship programme.

Read these top tips for making the most of your internship.

Learn about the experience of previous MRC, Academy of Medical Sciences interns by reading their case studies (PDF, 1.3MB).

Top image:  A speaker at the 2021 Academy of Medical Sciences’ FORUM, Sir Colin Dollery lecture. Credit: BigT images, Academy of Medical Sciences

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