Stop Brexit. Save Science.

Today’s Dispatch from Brexit Britain is from Lauren. She’s 21 and grew up mostly in Brentwood, Essex though she did live in Germany for a time as well. Lauren is currently studying Genetics at the University of Manchester, where she is working on her final year research project in a lab looking at the molecular pathology of breast cancer. She hopes to either carry onto postgraduate study after her graduation in June or to go into a clinical role within the NHS. 

She makes the case that Brexit will do lasting damage to scientific research and the collaborative networks that are essential for scientific progress.

Lauren’s story

Whilst I will look back as these past three years as my time at University, to everyone else they will always be the Brexit years. In the days and weeks following the referendum in 2016, whilst I was obviously very concerned and angry about the outcome, I also had a selfish feeling of distance. I was
born in the UK (and with an Irish grandmother had the potential for an Irish passport in the bank), I didn’t work in finance or trading or anything like that, and only relied on the NHS with my yearly bouts of tonsillitis. As far as I considered, the effects of Brexit on my own life would be minimal and indirect.

I was about to go into my first year as a Genetics undergraduate at the University of Manchester and was genuinely naïve. There is a whole plethora of ways in which Brexit will affect my future, including and not limiting to my ambitions to continue to work in science following the end of my degree.

Straight after the result, the campaign Scientists for EU was founded by Mike Galsworthy and Rob Davidson which immediately drafted a letter to the government on behalf of several prominent British scientists. One of their arguments was that the public have insufficient knowledge of the extent to which the EU supports the UK in science and innovation. I am inclined to agree. I do not remember throughout the Remain campaign hearing anything about how leaving would affect the research community in the subject area I was about to start my degree in. There is no doubt that the freedom of movement awarded to EU citizens as well as funding through EU schemes such as The Framework Programmes for Research and Technological Development such as Horizon 2020 is what has contributed to the UK being a world leader in scientific innovation.

It is easy to see how collaboration with the EU has been fundamental in just this institution and on my one programme. Many of my lecturers are EU nationals, as well as several postgraduates I walk past every day in the lab, and in the background of campus the world leading National Graphene Institute looms, built using a £23 million of EU funding. However, I don’t want to keep returning to money because whilst instrumental in a field in which underfunding is rife it is not the main thing I think would be lost.

Ultimately, money can be found in other places and through other bodies (though I’m not sure whereabouts the government will be able to find the extra billions of pounds in an already stretched tight budget). The biggest loss is the loss of confidence in the UK and the loss of collaboration. Research relies on collaborative networks. No one person can be the world expert in every single aspect of the molecular pathology of cancer or dementia, for example, and neither can a single country. Unravelling causes to produce efficient and rational cures relies on inter country collaboration and communication. It requires the best and brightest minds to be able to move between countries freely to confer, to speak at symposiums, and to study and work in other countries. Why would massively funded research projects which keep UK at this world forefront be allocated here when after March they may be restricted in their funding and more isolated?

Lack of public education into the effect of Brexit on this field and the accessibility of information pertaining to it has been noticeably lacking. Having listened to stories from people in research and sat down and researched the implications in the area I wish to have a career in for myself.

I no longer am so naïve as to think Brexit will not impact me directly. However I chose to carry on in this field after I graduate from my degree in July, be that postgraduate study or seeking a career immediately, the uncertainty in EU relationships, the time it will take to redirect and re-find funding within science and innovation, and the isolation being experienced by UK scientists will undoubtedly impact me harder than I could have considered in 2016.

If you want to get active for a People’s Vote, join the Our Future, Our Choice campaign and For Our Future’s Sake campaigns. Both are campaigning for a People’s Vote, are aimed at young people and need volunteers!

The Put It To The People : People’s Vote March is taking place on 23rd March in London. Make sure you attend and bring your best placards! 

There are coaches going from Manchester – book your space here. It’s £30 with £20 back on the day if you provide valid student ID.

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