Nick Green loves the varied nature of his job as science policy manager at the Royal Society, which sees him talking to politicians and scientists. Yfke Hager finds out more

Nick Green loves the varied nature of his job as science policy manager at the Royal Society, which sees him talking to politicians and scientists. Yfke Hager finds out more

On an average day, Nick Green might find himself finishing off a report on biological and chemical weapons, organising a briefing on nanotechnology, meeting with politicians, or discussing science policy with fellows of the Royal Society (RS). It’s an unusual career choice, Green says, but he certainly doesn’t regret leaving the lab to tackle the science issues that face politicians and decision-makers. ’On some days, you really feel that you’re making a difference,’ he says. 

After seven years of working as a research scientist, Green made a successful career transition into science policy. In some ways, Green’s work still resembles that of a researcher: painstakingly gathering relevant information and writing scientific reports. But in other respects, science policy work is quite different from research: Green no longer works in isolation, but interacts with a wide array of professionals, from scientists to members of parliament. ’To do this job, you need to be able to deal with a wide range of people - and enjoy doing this,’ Green says. ’I’m really a ’’people person’’, which is why I enjoy my job so much.’ 

Management skills 

Just how does a chemist make the switch from laboratory research to science policy? Green’s early career path was fairly traditional. He had been trained to do one thing: research. But throughout his early career, Green developed a talent for managing people. During his PhD at Bristol university, UK, Green says, the most important transferable skill he acquired was learning how to manage his supervisor. ’I learned quicker than my contemporaries to be aware of the demands on my supervisor’s time and plan my requests around his workload. One thing I learned was that I should give him things to read during his train journeys if I wanted to get them reviewed,’ Green laughs. 

Towards the end of his PhD, the ever-narrowing focus of his research concerned him. ’I gave a talk at a conference and realised that I knew more about this subject than anyone else in the room,’ he recalls. Rather than being the expert, Green wanted to be able to discuss his ideas with other people on an equal footing. 

Keen to apply his scientific skills, Green took up a position as a research scientist at Zeneca Agrochemicals (now Syngenta). ’I learned a lot there,’ Green says. ’I realised that I liked project management and working in a team. I got a lot out of the marketing and business side too.’ When the company merged with Novartis Crop Protection, Green was fortunate not to be made redundant, and found the experience a valuable one. Over time, Green gained more line management responsibility, which he enjoyed. But he found working in a lab from nine to five very solitary. ’I realised that the main thing I liked about lab work was discovering new things that I could then tell other people about,’ he says. He did, however, benefit enormously from the ’fantastic staff training opportunities’ that Syngenta offered. ’I was sent on a million and one training courses.’. By honing his transferable skills, Green was eventually able to make a smooth transition from the bench to policy work. 

Policy change 

In 2001, an RS job ad caught his eye and lured him into the challenging world of science policy. As science policy manager, Green keeps a close eye on current developments and researches science and technology issues. His remit is to establish a RS position on a given topic and then educate policy makers and stakeholders about the position and the science behind the topic. ’It’s quite a specialised service that we offer. We provide independent authoritative advice on policy that involves science,’ Green says. He relies on a wide variety of experts; to prepare a recent report on the impact of information and communication technologies on healthcare, Green had to liaise with patients, nurses, doctors, consultants, information experts, engineers and computer experts.  

Green’s particular focus is international security. He recently helped to coordinate an international workshop on science and technology developments relevant to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, which brought together 84 scientific and policy experts from around the world.  

Like many interdisciplinary careers, science policy does not have a clear career path, and science policy jobs are few and far between. Green admits that this occasionally worries him. ’But sometimes it’s good not to take an established career path,’ he says. Policy work poses unique challenges - but they’re challenges that Green clearly relishes. 

Curriculum vitae

Age 34

Work experience 
Manager, science policy (physical sciences and international security), The Royal Society, London, UK 
Formulation research scientist, Syngenta, Jealott’s Hill International Research Centre, Berkshire, UK 

BSc chemistry, University of Bristol 
PhD in physical chemistry, University of Bristol 

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