Research and society

Last week I visited a conference in Manchester. The theme was ‘Research in Society’ and was organized by Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA).

As you might not know, my PhD is funded by European Union Marie Curie fund, so this event was organized for my kind of people. Or let’s put it otherwise, for people with my kind of job. 😉

I’ll try and share the highlights of this event and hope I can give you some food for thought.


Outreach, outreach, outreach

“I don’t like that word” – said one of the speakers, Shane Bergin

He prefers calling it ‘education and public engagement’. He showed a very cool example of this in his presentation. It is called Dart of Physics. Find the link here to have a look yourself.

In my PhD outreach is also an often talked about word. Outreach and dissemination. Last year I also participated in ‘dissemination’ and before I knew it, I talked to the head of plant sciences department of Cambridge University. Luckily this person is still human and we had a nice chat.
So outreach is not only something obligatory to write about in a research proposal, it can also give some taste to PhD life.

About European decision making: yes, it is complicated. It gives us also a lot of good things. Like uniformity in size and shape of bananas and cucumbers.

Well, as long as we allow all people to be their own size and shape. 😉



Research and politics

I think politics are very interesting, I like to see how people interact and how the systems work. It is my way of getting some understanding of how the world works. The key to achieve something in the European Union is to lobby, lobby, lobby.

I thought why would members of the parliament take time to listen to lobbyists? To get informed about a topic! They need advice from experts.

With lobby you can represent the opinion of your group of stakeholders. It’s easier to get a small number of stakeholders together, for example dairy process companies, than to get a large number of stakeholders together, for example all farmers that supply the dairy proces companies. That explains why a small number of big companies often have a bigger say in European legislation.



What does research have to do with politics? A lot and something concerning. Research money allocation is largely done by politics, which is voted for by society.

In the Brexit referendum the Brexiteers often said that they were fed up with experts. Society doesn’t trust the experts anymore!

It seems that politicians who have the feelings right, but the facts wrong, are winning terrain.

Look at or listen to Trump, Farage and Wilders (in NL) what they say is rubbish! Still they can convince a concerning part of the population.

The question remained at my side is: Why are people fed up with experts? Why don’t people trust experts anymore?

I think if we know this, we can maybe work towards a new way of trust again!



Scientist often live with the feeling of publish or perish. Their quality is evaluated with number of publications and number of citings. It is a great system to evaluate quality, but it is a poor system to create the best science.

One of our speakers asked when ethics came in the picture?

She said: “It all starts with ethics.”

It is in all our behaviour. When a colleague tells you she published her research. Don’t say:That’s great! In which paper? But say: That’s great! What is it about?

Currently I’m following an online course about professional behaviour and it is all about ethics. I find it endlessly interesting and also amazingly difficult to first be aware of the choices for the better you have and then to act upon them.

PhD life

The conference was thought provoking for me and I hope reading this was thought provoking for you too!

It is always nice to be outside of the office with a permit. 🌞







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