The government science sector is relatively small, but when you add up all the state and national departments and related organisations, it's a lot of people doing a lot of science.

Despite the strategic importance of public sector science, as far as I know there is no group responsible for the sector as a whole. It is no one’s job to support, connect or speak out for the highly diverse, often committed but sometimes isolated workforce within the government science sector. It is no one’s job to keep track of the sector, to share knowledge and work towards practical resolution of shared issues. This stands in contrast to the relatively well-organised, represented and funded science in academia. (Note that public sector jobs can be well paid and secure)

I would like to know if there are any organisations, initiatives or resources aimed at a) monitoring or b) supporting government (public sector) scientists, in any country.

What do I mean by government / public sector scientist?

  • is not employed by a university or college (what I think of as academia)
  • employed within executive arm of government, often a department e.g. Dept of Environment, Dept of Health, Dept of Agriculture
  • spends subtantial amount of job conducting research
  • generally not rewarded by academic measures of success and so in some sense decoupled from academic career structures (not saying this is good or bad)

What do I mean by monitoring?

  • Keeping statistics and recording trends in number employed, discipline, funding, salaries, career paths, impact on public good or economy etc (while not perfect, there seems to be many reports and organisations tasked with tracking these kinds of things in academia and private sector R&D)

What do I mean by support?

  • The kind of work done by national academies of science (e.g. AAAS in the US, the Australian Academy of Science, the Royal Society in the UK) and disciplinary societies, professional bodies and the like. Note that their work may or may not be relevant to government scientists, but it is generally not targeted at them. Can anyone share an example of work by a body like this that is specifically targeted to government scientists?
  • Initiatives, policies, resources aimed at supporting career development and tackling issues. For example just about every university/college and many departments and institutes within them will have their own set of policies, initiatives and resources targeted to early career researchers, whether it's developing writing and publication skills, grant application training, outreach skills, building a career plan, finding a mentor etc.

  • An issue is that university and college resources, and the staff within them, are often active in the public domain. There are probably a lot of resources out there but government scientists may not be encouraged/authorised to have a public presence and their departments may not prioritise sharing what may be seen as internal resources with the general public.

closed as unclear what you're asking by Stella Biderman, scaaahu, user3209815, Roland, Bryan Krause Jan 30 '18 at 17:12

Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • And this is in which country...? – user9646 Jan 30 '18 at 13:53
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    I agree that this is unclear. You’ll need to specify the country you’re talking about, as well as what you mean by “monitoring” and “supporting.” Surely it’s tautological that the government supports its employees, yes? You also seem to imply that it’s someone’s “job to support, connect, or speak out for... the academic science center.” I don’t know who those people would be in my country. – Stella Biderman Jan 30 '18 at 13:55
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    Why should non-academics not be decoupled from academic career structures? I for one am perfectly happy to be decoupled. And I have many (perhaps too many) people who keep an eye out for what my department does... – Jon Custer Jan 30 '18 at 14:16
  • @JonCuster I know a reasonable number of people who move between the two, and honestly I think it's probably a good thing - I also know of multiple problems caused because people stay in one place too long. Anything which increases the ability of scientists to move between these areas is to be encouraged, frankly. – arboviral Jan 30 '18 at 16:40
  • Thanks all! I've tried to clarify incl defining govt scientist, monitor & support. I'm not talking about universities and similar research institutes. I agree that all employers support their staff in some sense, but I am talking about govt science as a sector. There are many groups advocating for science in academia, incl universities & national academies. I'm interested in any country, I guess North America and Western Europe could have most info. I'm not arguing that they should or shouldn't be decoupled but tend to agree with @arboviral. – HamishC Jan 31 '18 at 0:58

Your questions appear to be asking about non-academic government scientists.

To answer your question about supporting science, yes groups exist that support them. The largest of which is probably the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) who advocates on behalf of scientists both in the United States of America and other countries as well. The mission and purpose of AAAS is to advance science, engineering, and innovation throughout the world for the benefit of all people.

I am member of AAAS and a government research scientist. The news and updates section of Science includes both news about government scientists and what AAAS is advocating on behalf scientist and science.

To answer your question about monitoring science (at least in the United States), the Office for Personnel Management (OPM) provides oversight and standards for managing scientists across agencies (e.g., this public webpage lists some of their resources).

  • thanks Richard. I agree that national bodies like AAAS implicitly support government science, but I haven't seen any activities of theirs specifically targeted to the public sector. Hopefully I've just missed them. I like the news section of Science. I am not across the higher education and research news media, there is probably lots of info there.Thanks also for the OPM link - it's definitely part of what I'm interested in. – HamishC Jan 31 '18 at 1:02
  • @HamishC You're welcome. See [this story as well]( theconversation.com/…) it mentions some of the efforts by AAAS. – Richard Erickson Jan 31 '18 at 1:15

There are different ways to interpret "government public sector scientist". For instance in the UK there are government laboratories which are executive agencies of government departments, such as the Animal and Plant Health Agency. In contrast the UK research institutes used to be part of Research Councils UK, which is a non-departmental public body, and were equivalent to university departments in every respect except awarding degrees (same eligibility for funding, etc). However, nowadays most of those institutes are either independent charities or have become part of a university.

It is no one’s job to support, connect or speak out for the highly diverse, often committed but sometimes isolated workforce within the government science sector. It is no one’s job to keep track of the sector, to share knowledge and work towards practical resolution of shared issues

It sounds like a trade union is the body closest to what you're asking about. In the UK the union representing most government scientists/engineers, as well as many of the research institutes I mention above, is Prospect. This includes forensic, nuclear, agricultural, fisheries and environmental scientists, among others. The union will address safety, job security, pay negotiations etc.

There are also professional bodies and associations that are open to STEM employees in their profession irrespective of their employer, such as the Institute of Safety and Technology in Research, which provide continuing professional development and networking opportunities. And most academic societies will not exclude members based on whether they are employed by government, academia or industry.

  • Thanks arboviral, that's helpful. I should look into the relevant national unions to see what public sector research-specific things they get up to. I agree that many societies and professional bodies are relevant to public sector scientists, I just feel that there are some elements to the work that justify treating government science as a sector of its own, and doing some things with/for it as a whole, rather than on a department-by-department or society-by-society basis. – HamishC Jan 31 '18 at 1:05

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