People often ask me what my role as CE involves and how it is different to being an academic researcher. A good insight comes from the various activities I was involved with in the couple of weeks before my recent holiday. These saw me travelling the length and breadth of the UK to engage with different groups of BBSRC stakeholders – while physically tiring it has been an intellectually stimulating time.

I was delighted to Chair a debate, jointly hosted by the The Royal Society and the Learned Society of Wales , entitled ‘Growing tomorrow’s dinner – should GM be on the table?’ at the Principality stadium (no, we weren’t allowed onto the pitch). This is one of a series of public engagement events The Royal Society have been running throughout the year. Our audience in Cardiff included students studying a range of courses in the city and this ensured a lively, and at times challenging, discussion for panellists Stephen Tindale (Climate and energy policy consultant), Liz O’Neill (GM Freeze) and Huw Jones (IBERS).

A day later saw me head to Scotland, where my first visit was to the University of Glasgow’s
College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences. It was good to hear of the progress being made in relation to key BBSRC investments, including projects that form part of the joint DfID ZELS programme. I was struck by the continuing enthusiasm of the College’s approach to enabling and embedding impact and it was clear to me they were very worthy runner’s up in BBSRC’s Excellence with Impact 2 competition.

My day in Glasgow was followed closely by visits to the universities of Edinburgh and Cambridge. During all three visits strategic issues facing the bioscience community were discussed – the sharing and gathering of views is a real strength of these partnerships. A theme that emerged in all discussions (in addition to UKRI and Brexit) was support for early career researchers. Clearly there is interest from the research community in BBSRC’s plans for supporting the next generation of bioscientists. From a BBSRC perspective, we are equally interested to understand how universities and institutes are supporting their research students and fellows. The perspectives of early career researchers themselves is also illuminating and I would challenge universities to ensure they are considering these too when developing their own strategies.

It was then time for something completely different. As an interested observer I joined the
Foundation of Science and Technology debate on the ‘Vision for UKRI’ before journeying to Norwich, where I was the guest speaker at the The Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD) Technical Leadership Forum dinner. The IGD represents the network of food producers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers and has huge reach across the sector. BBSRC investments in agriculture, nutrition and health underpin key aspects of this broad sector and we had a wide ranging discussion on the potential of the gut microbiome in sustaining health, the potential future business opportunities it offers, as well as ways the sector can engage more broadly with the UK bioscience research base.

As I hope these examples demonstrate, engaging with the breadth of BBSRC stakeholders is a real highlight of my role and vital to keeping us all in step with developments and wider issues (though I also welcomed my holiday when it came!)

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