By Rohan Bundell, Public Affairs Officer, AMRC

Published: Tuesday 19 June 2018

On Tuesday 5 June, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Medical Research held a drop-in event, Science Moves: How Brexit, Medical Research and International Mobility can make Britain fit for the future, in Parliament bringing together a group of researchers with parliamentarians to share  experiences ahead of the design of the UK’s new immigration system. Alongside the group’s Chair, Chris Green MP, 24 parliamentarians attended, including Layla Moran MP, Ben Bradshaw MP, and former Health Secretary, Baroness Bottomley.

Speeches

Providing an overview of the unique requirements of medical research, Chris Green MP, Chair of the APPG on Medical Research, commented that “Immigration must work for us, not against us”.

Delivering the first keynote speech, Professor Anne Barton of the Arthritis Research UK Centre for Genetics and Genomics spoke about her research into psoriatic arthritis. Working with partners across Europe, Anne chairs a network that utilises the larger pool of research participants and expertise than is available in the UK alone to help drive the discovery of new treatments. She spoke passionately about how this kind of collaboration can help identify at-risk individuals earlier.

 

Dr Lori Passmore, a group leader at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, in Cambridge, followed describing the diverse international make-up of her lab and explaining how this has brought a greater diversity of ideas to their research. She warned of barriers to researcher movement, citing recent examples such as a colleague in India whose rejected visa application meant they could not travel to the UK to attend a planned workshop, and a researcher who turned down the offer of a postdoctoral fellowship because of Brexit.

Moving for work, exchanging ideas and developing skills

Scientists were stationed at stalls around the room, each highlighting a different major driver of mobility. Highlighting the need to move across the globe for work, Parliamentarians heard from Dr Marcus Lee, Joanna Blodgett, Dr Rachel Lowe, Dr Marco Brancaccio, and Dr Riikka Mottonen. Whether coming to the UK on a short-term research contract of a few-months, arriving as part of the relocation of a whole laboratory, or moving as a spouse or dependent family, the norm for a career in research in the 21st century involves frequent journeying between countries.

Moving for work, exchanging ideas and developing skills

Scientists were stationed at stalls around the room, each highlighting a different major driver of mobility. Highlighting the need to move across the globe for work, Parliamentarians heard from Dr Marcus Lee, Joanna Blodgett, Dr Rachel Lowe, Dr Marco Brancaccio, and Dr Riikka Mottonen. Whether coming to the UK on a short-term research contract of a few-months, arriving as part of the relocation of a whole laboratory, or moving as a spouse or dependent family, the norm for a career in research in the 21st century involves frequent journeying between countries.

Dr Lotte de Winde, Dr Kaili Rimfeld, and Professor Giampietro Schiavo shared how mobility is vital to the exchange of ideas underpinning research. Knowledge sharing helps to disseminate best-practice, steer projects away from cul-de-sacs, and spark serendipitous discoveries made possible through chance conversations. Whether at a conference, on a field trip, or secondment, when researchers are able to meet physically, information flows between them. Whilst advances in digital sharing are welcome, the intrinsically collaborative – and often informal – nature of research makes travelling across borders as essential as it has ever been.

The need for training in specific techniques and for developing a range of essential research skills is another major driver of mobility. Dr Jacqui Keane, Dr Gautam Dey, and Ki Hng recalled how their development needs have led them to further their research careers in the UK. Ki, for example, trained in the UK as a specialist technician in microscopy, volunteered on a short-term basis in Sierra Leone, then returned to London with a raft of vital technical skills. Others come to undertake a PhD, take up placements at specialist facilities or to learn how to operate complex equipment.

Together Science Can & The Passmore Laboratory

Parliamentarians also had the opportunity to talk to Lori Passmore and two members of her team – Dr Pablo Alcón and Terence Tang – in greater depth at a stall showcasing their research. The lab has developed novel enhancements helping to revolutionise the power of cryo-electron microscopes – hugely expensive and complex pieces of machinery that researchers often travel especially to use.

Finally, the international Together Science Can campaign promoted the value of collaboration, making the case that science can only solve the world’s most complex problems when the best ideas are brought together.

Parliamentary attendance

25 parliamentarians or their staff attended from both the Houses of Commons and Lords. They came from across the political spectrum and included Conservatives such as Anne Marie Morris MP (Public Accounts Committee) and Baroness Bottomley (former Health Secretary); Labour members such as Ben Bradshaw MP (Health Select Committee) and Kate Hollern MP, (PPS to Jeremy Corbyn);  Liberal Democrats such as Layla Moran MP (Public Accounts Committee) and Baroness Walmsley (Lords Health Spokesperson); the SNP’s Stuart C McDonald MP (Home Affairs Select Committee); and crossbench peers such as Baroness Finlay and Lord Gordon. Many have now become members of the APPG on Medical Research. A smaller group will attend an exclusive tour of the new Francis Crick Institute later in the year.

Next steps

Following the launch of the Science and Technology Committee’s inquiry to develop its own proposals for immigration and visa rules for scientists, one of the committee’s specialist researchers attended the event to gather evidence. Engagement with the inquiry is ongoing and the passage of the Immigration Bill will be closely monitored to ensure its design recognises the unique requirements of medical research.

To stay updated with upcoming activity or if you have any questions about the work of the group, please contact [email protected]