UK POST Internship in a Nutshell

(report written by Willy Yanto Wijaya)


My internship was conducted in the UK POST (Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology) on Feb 4-14, 2011. This report will describe about my initial objectives in conducting the internship, where in particular I hoped to learn the actual implementation of science communication in the UK Parliament. Then, the results and learning-curve I obtained from this internship will be described and compared to my initial objectives. Further, how the obtained results will be useful for my future career will also be considered. The detailed schedule of activities during the internship will also be provided. Finally, some suggestions and ideas for improvement will be taken into account, in the hope that the future intern dispatch will become better and better.

■    Objective

British Parliament had been known as the Mother of Parliaments due to its role in serving as a model for many parliamentary systems in other parts of the world. Personally, I hoped that by doing this internship, I could learn how the Parliament runs its activities, and how the members of the parliament (MPs) manage one of the oldest parliamentary systems in the world. Besides, in particular, I was also interested in the way the UK Parliament handled the social issues correlated with scientific aspects by forming an independent body they called Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST). Having read the POSTNOTEs which were written in a very concise and easy-to-understand manner (to serve the busy MPs), I realized that the term “Science Communication” must have been considered intensively by the UK POST, and through this internship, I did hope that I could see and learn the actual implementation of the scientific communication within the parliament body.

■    Detailed schedule

Friday, 4 Feb 2011

Introduction of Westminster House and POST

Guided tour to explore inside of the Westminster Palace

Saturday, 5 Feb 2011

British Museum

Tower Bridge, River Thames cruising

Greenwich:  Painted Chapel, Royal Observatory

Sunday, 6 Feb 2011

National Gallery

Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, London Chinatown

St.  Paul Cathedral

Monday, 7 Feb 2011

Background Research (Heat Pump)

Tuesday, 8 Feb 2011

Oral Evidence Session: Investors and NGOs on Electricity Market Reform at Committee Room 19: Renewable Energy (10.15~    )

Meeting with Parliament members of Costa Rica (15.00~    )

All-party Parliamentary Group on Heart Disease “British Heart Foundation” (16.30~    )

Seminar and discussion on Shale Gas (18.30~    )

Wednesday, 9 Feb 2011

Foresight Project Global Food and Farming Futures (10.30~    )

Thursday, 10 Feb 2011

Accompany Navvab-san to a clinic

Continue background research

Friday, 11 Feb 2011

Finish background research about heat pump, and summary of one week activities

Saturday, 12 Feb 2011

Visit Cambridge and Cambridge University

Met Dr. Swami and Minamoto-san, got introductions about their research facilities

Sunday, 13 Feb 2011

Visit Oxford and Oxford University

Drop by to see Oxford Museum of Natural History and Pitt Rivers Museum

Monday, 14 Feb 2011

Return the Parliament security pass and finish the administrative procedures

Met Kamo-san at Science Museum, had a walk in Imperial College London


■     Results

From the various activities during my internship in UK POST around one week, I have learned many things, either concerning the “science communication” itself, as well as other knowledge such as: the UK Parliamentary system, and socio-economic of life in Britain, especially in London.

To pick up a couple of specific examples concerning science communication:

1. Became an observer in the Oral Evidence Session: Electricity Market Reform.

It was an interesting experience for me to see how the investors and NGOs (Non-governmental organizations, such as: Greenpeace, WWF) tried to convince the MPs about the renewable energy investments in the UK.. From this session, I saw that it is important to convey appropriately a scientific/ technical issue (concerning renewable energies) to a group of audiences (MPs) which have different depth of understanding about the issue. It is necessary to understand the background of our intended audiences, as well as possible opponents/ proponents that might counter-attack/ support our arguments. In this session, it seemed that most of the NGOs supported the idea of this renewable energy investment (with certain differing opinions), but the MPs might later invite a group of opponents in their next hearing of evidence session.

2. An attendee of a party by British Heart Foundation (BHF).

Even though just in the form of a party, it could serve as an effective lobby to the targeted stakeholders (MPs). The MPs are the lawmakers, which have strong influence in the deregulation and science policy. BHF had been very smart in conveying the message of how important it is to support the research upon heart diseases, and stem cell as one possible approach to cure the broken heart cells. When I talked with one professor of the BHF, he explained about the research funding, and the further perspectives of their research progress in the terms understandable by non-medical people. The BHF also invited patients/ people suffered heart disease to give witness about their actual experiences.

From these experiences, I understood that science communication could be done in many ways, not necessarily in the form of rigid lecture/ seminars. I also realized that it’s important to have a clear map of whom we are dealing with, and who other possible stakeholders that might be involved.

From Prof. David Cope’s presentation and talk with MPs from Costa Rica, I also got deeper insights about the UK Parliament: the history, activities, and other relevant aspects.

■     Future prospects

I’m sure that my experiences during the internship in UK POST, and in more general, the “Science Communication” course I took in Tokyo Tech, will be fruitful for my future career, either if I decide to be involved in the energy industries or in the academic world later. When working in the energy sector, for example, it is crucial to convince the public opinion to support the intended energy project, such as by employing the methods of effective science communication. In the academic world, for sure, it is vital to convey complicated scientific concepts in a way that such scientific issues become easily grasped, and thus the joy of learning can be kept growing.

It is also interesting to note that in Indonesian Parliament, the awareness of scientific issues of the MPs are still very low, even though recently some issues such as: avian influenza, genetically-modified crops, deforestation, IT regulations, are becoming hot issues. It will be troublesome if most of the lawmakers in Indonesian Parliament do not even have a mere idea of those scientific subjects. POST and POSTNOTE are good ideas to promote the scientific awareness among the Indonesian MPs.

■     Suggestion

Some suggestions and idea for future improvement:

  1. More wide-spread announcements/ advertisements about this Science Communication – Overseas Internships could be done, for example by making use of the ISC mailing list, GCOE, and Department mailing lists. Electronic Bulletin Board in the library, cafeteria, Honkan, and other places can also be used to promote this internship opportunities. To reach wider audiences, information can be provided in both Japanese and English.
  2. It is a good idea to inform earlier the selected candidates about the webpage: so that they can get some ideas of what they are going to do before being dispatched.
  3. It might be good to adjust the period of dispatch and number of students with the seat availability in the UK POST.

For future interns:

Apply for the UK visa as earliest as possible since the visa application of people from certain countries will take longer time than usual (seemed that UK Embassy did a careful check on certain applications), and be sure to attach sufficient supporting documents for the visa application.



Additional Scratches..

Meeting with Parliament Members of Costa Rica

MP (Member of Parliament) from Costa Rica visited UK POST (Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology).


Prof. David Cope

(12 years in POST, previously Director of a research institute in Cambridge University, Field of expertise: Energy)

The role of parliament:

  • To scrutinize financial and general activities of government
  • To debate and agree new laws
  • To be premier institution considering issue of current concern to the people
  • To be a look-out for future issues (Parliament of Finland is best in this aspect)

English Parliament is more than 800 years old, consists of House of Lords (400 members) and House of Commons (650 members). Around 1660-1700, English Parliament started to consider science, where prominent scientist like Isaac Newton was also an MP.

There are two main motivations to carry out scientific advancement:

  1. Purely for inspirational and educational values
  2. Pursuit of instrumental aims: wealth, power, etc.

The second motivation was very dominant in England at that moment. For example, in the 18th century, there were two areas where scientific advancements were really emphasized:

  • Development of clocks/ time measurement
  • Development of military technologies

The reward for the inventor of clock with highest precision was £25,000, which was really big money at that time.

In 19th century, National Institute of Medical Research and National Institute of Physical Science were established.

POST working areas include: Health/ Medicine, Environment/ Energy, Science Policy, Physical Sciences/ IT, and Science for Development.

POST members are employed by MP (with the status of Parliamentary Civil Servant), but in country such as France, POST member is also an MP. The budget for POST is about £600,000 per year, with staff of 9 (Director, 6 Advisers, 2 PAs). Around 20 doctoral students and post-doc come to work at POST as research fellows annually.

Even UK government often asks POST to conduct independent researches such as about the flu epidemics (concerning how fast the vaccine can be produced), and currently research about stem-cell.


MPs to Question Investors and NGOs on Electricity Market Reform

Fourth oral evidence session held by The Energy and Climate Change Committee, Tuesday, 8 Feb 2011, Committee Room 19.

The oral evidence session was devided into 2 parts, first part by investors and the second part by NGOs.

List of investors trying to convince the MPs:

  • Chris Hunt, Riverstone
  • Peter Atherton, European Utility Sector Research, Citigroup Global Markets
  • Shai Weiss, Virgin Green Money
  • Shaun Mays, Climate Change Capital

List of NGOs giving evidence to the MPs:

  • Harry Huyton, RSPB
  • Doug Parr, Greenpeace
  • Nick Molho, WWF
  • Alan Simpson, Consultant to Friends of the Earth

The meeting covered about investment challenges in the energy sector, such as:

  • Where the money will come from for the electricity market reform (EMR)
  • UK renewable energy ambitions
  • Package of proposals in the EMR consultation.

Some questions aroused from the MPs concerning the possibility if the fix cost of the proposed investment might change in the future, and also the sustainability of the project. The investors proposed to construct a framework for the future, therefore taking into account all possible changes predicted to occur within the time frame of the proposed project.

There was also interesting question from an MP whether it is just better to import energy from, say, electricity from nuclear plants in France, which is cheaper than making new investments. One reply concerning this question is the consideration upon energy security as well as diversification of energy sources, such as China that invested billions for the solar power. Diversification will ensure better energy security, furthermore, it will be not that much expensive.


Shale Gas Seminar

Tuesday, 8 Feb 2011, 18.30~


  • Nigel Smith, Geologist, British Geological Survey
  • Prof. Richard Selley, Petroleum Geologist, Imperial College London

This seminar covered the introduction about shale gas to the general public, with the main topics of the presentation and discussions were as follow:

v       The prospects for shale gas in the UK, and the risks of rapid depletion of shale gas resources.

v       The implications of large discoveries of shale gas around the world for UK energy and climate change policy, including investment in renewable energy.

v       The risks and hazards associated with drilling for shale gas.

v       Carbon footprint of shale gas compared to other fossil fuels.

From this talk, it’s interesting to know that in Europe, the natural resources/ minerals are the properties of the state (nation) meanwhile in US; they are the properties of the backyard owner where the minerals were found.


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