Foundation Futures Leaders Programme: A year of opportunity

  • 8 December 2020
  • General
  • Dr Caroline Pritchard

Over the last 15 months I have had the privilege to be part of the Foundation for Science and Technology’s Foundation Future Leaders Programme.

Throughout the programme it has been fascinating to see the different parts of the research landscape up close; from visits to national infrastructure centres, discussions of the roles universities play in encouraging business innovation and hearing about science within government across the devolved administrations, to name a few. These varied experiences have allowed me to better appreciate the complementary activities and given me a much better understanding of how they combine to inform policy decisions.

This appreciation is important for the strategy and impact evaluation work I do within the National Measurement Laboratory (NML), a publicly funded laboratory sponsored by BEIS and hosted at LGC. Within the NML we perform world-leading measurement science, helping to solve some of the most demanding chemical and biological measurement challenges, everything from validation of biomarkers for Alzheimer’s, developing point of use testing for drug seizures, improving environmental monitoring of mercury and supporting the role of the Government Chemist. This underpinning work ensures trust and confidence in the hundreds of thousands of measurements performed every day in the UK and helps support innovation for the future.

As a fundamental part of the UK’s national measurement infrastructure, we can provide vital bridging support for research innovation and translation. However, to do this effectively we have to work in partnership, whether this is with academia through our Centres of Excellence, e.g. Centre for Advanced Measurement Research and Health Translation, through collaborative programmes with industry to improve productivity and support economic recovery post-Covid19, e.g. Analysis for Innovators and Measurement for Recovery, or across government and arms lengths bodies to support and improve standardisation and inform regulation, e.g. for the Department for Health and Social Care or the Food Standards Agency.

The relationships I built through the programme, both with the other Future Leaders and through the different events we attended, have already started to influence and grow the way in which we work within the NML. Our scientists have become more involved in providing measurement expertise in to parliament, supporting horizon scanningactivities within POST. There has been closer measurement integration within government and across academia to address current challenges such as Covid-19, through programmes like the Covid-19 National Diagnostic Research and Evaluation Platform (CONDOR), as well as for emerging regulation in areas such as food safety. 

One of the real advantages of the programme was to have time with leaders from across the different parts of the research landscape, from Vice Chancellors to Science Ministers and Chief Executives. Everyone we spoke to was incredibly generous with their time, giving us both their experiences of their respective sectors as well as their individual perspectives on what good leadership looks like and some insights in to how their careers have progressed. It was clear that there is no such thing as a ‘typical’ career path but an openness to new opportunities, the value of building and maintaining strong relationships across the research landscape, and a willingness to step outside your comfort zone were themes that came up repeatedly during these discussions. Sitting on a panel with Sir Patrick Vallance as part of the 3-day Conference that marked the culmination of the programme was definitely an opportunity to push my own boundaries, and a real highlight of the year for me.

Meeting and learning from leaders from across the science landscape has been invaluable and I would encourage those who start on the programme next year to say yes to all the opportunities you are offered, as they may well lead you in directions you hadn’t previously realised were possible.

Dr Caroline Pritchard leads the Strategy and Impact Team at the UK National Measurement Laboratory (NML) and was one of the inaugural Foundation Future Leaders Fellows at the Foundation for Science and Technology. Her place was sponsored by AIRTO.