Ritika Saxena, a PhD student at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and the University of Melbourne, attended the 2023 Science meets Parliament. This event delivers outstanding opportunities to elevate visibility and understanding of STEM in Parliament and Australian Government Departments. Ritika’s attendance was supported by the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Stem Cell Medicine (reNEW) and the Australasian Society for Stem Cell Research. Read about Ritika’s experience.

In February 2023, I had the opportunity to attend Science meets Parliament (SmP), Australia’s most powerful vehicle for deep engagement between the STEM sector and policymakers. The fantastic 2-part initiative was organised by Science and Technology Australia.

The program began with a three-day online training program on all things Australian politics, including how to influence decision-makers, work with Parliamentarians and advocate for critical policy changes. Further in-person training followed at ‘SmP on the Hill’ which took place at the Parliament House in Canberra later that month.

Inspiring addresses from Dr Cathy Foley, Australia’s Chief Scientist, and Prof. Brian Schmidt, Nobel Prize laureate opened the event after which visits to National Press Club and the House of Representatives were organised. At the National Press Club, we heard speeches by both the Hon. Ed Husic MP, the Minister for Industry and Science of Australia, and Jaala Pulford, the newly minted chair of the MedTech and Pharma Growth Centre, MTPConnect.

Left: Minister for Industry and Science Ed Husic. Right: In conversation with Chief Scientist Dr Cathy Foley and Prof. Brian Schmidt.

Thanks to ASSCR’s support, I met with Kate Chaney MP and her advisor. Kate was interested in understanding the impact climate change is predicted to have on everyday life. I was in a group with two other scientists (who studied ice sheets, rain patterns and water levels) and were able to bring Kate’s attention to some concerning predictions. Our meeting was terminated abruptly, but excitingly, as a motion was moved in the Parliament and we observed the process on a screen in Kate’s office as she went in to the chamber to vote. While we couldn’t discuss the potential of stem cell therapy, I certainly witnessed how politicians want to do the best for the people they represent and are willing to know more and learn more to respond to tricky questions accurately and responsibly from their communities. With sustained STEM funding on the agenda, we can uncover information that can certainly help find those answers for the community.

The day concluded with a Gala dinner at Parliament House which was a great chance to meet policymakers and politicians in a relaxed atmosphere. We also heard from the President of Science and Technology Australia, Professor Mark Hutchinson and CEO Misha Schubert.

ASSCR and reNEW-supported ECR attendee Ritika Saxena (right).

The following day, I participated in Advancing the SABRE Alliance. Safeguarding Australia through Biotechnology Response and Engagement (SABRE) is an initiative of Defence that brings together Australia’s biotech capabilities and aligns them with their needs. Through this collaboration with Science and Technology Australia and the mock scenarios on the day, I gained insights into the benefits of developing dual purpose biotechnologies, ones that would benefit the research and development landscape and help Defence guard against future risks and national threats at the same time.