Policy Profile: Dr Laura Marshall MRSB

The RSB’s head of science policy looks ahead to a busy year

This Q&A appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of The Biologist (Vol 68 No 1)

Can you explain what you do at RSB?

I’m responsible for strategy, implementation and delivery of science policy activities. That includes managing our team of science policy officers, supporting our education and policy committee, and advancing the Society’s portfolio of policy work. Mostly I see my role as an idea and link-maker! I make links across teams, disciplines and beyond to support the RSB’s science policy work.

What did you do before working here?

I was a veterinary surgeon, then I did a master’s in veterinary epidemiology, before working in academic research and as a veterinary adviser for the Animal and Plant Health Agency.

Why is the Society’s science policy work important?

We tend to put science policy in two categories: policy for science and science for policy. For example, how the Government’s immigration strategy supports the movement of scientists is the first type, whereas how scientific research informs the regulation of genetic technology or forestry management is an example of the second.

In the end I think science policy is really about people, their needs and the communication of those needs, whether those people are scientists, civil servants or other citizens, and whether they are acting on behalf of themselves or our environment.

At the crux of science policy is knowledge exchange: enabling different people to understand others’ needs so that groups of people across society can collaborate to work on the opportunities and challenges we face as a society. Pretty important stuff.

What issues do you find particularly interesting right now?

I’m plagued by finding everything interesting. Food, land and water use policy – how we manage our activities in these environments in an environmentally sustainable and equitable manner while enabling natural ecosystems to grow and thrive – really, really interests me. There is some fantastic thinking, research, policymaking and action going on in these areas to combat the problems we currently face as a society on these fronts.

What are some of the challenges for those working in science policy at the moment?

One of the things we talked about in a recent team meeting was the constant barrage of negative news we sift through as part of our roles. We talked about how that doesn’t contribute to a positive mindset, or the will to keep going and face our challenges, which is how change happens.
There is a difficult balance to be struck between this negativity and toxic positivity (where big promises are made and not fulfilled), and how we can safeguard our own wellbeing through this maelstrom while trying to find balance in our communications to our community. The best thing is to talk and listen openly about it.

Our work in the end is all about people – it’s about supporting, understanding, resourcefulness, flexibility and cooperation, which are more important now than ever.

Dr Laura Marshall MRSB is head of science policy at the RSB.