From pest research to driving policy
Danielle Butcher, Executive Officer of Science Industry Australia, tells Lab+Life Scientist journalist Adam Florance a bit about herself and what she hopes to achieve in her new role at SIA.
Building bridges between researchers, commercial interests, government departments and the not-for-profit sector may seem like a tough call but that is precisely the aim of the newly appointed executive officer of Science Industry Australia, Danielle Butcher.
A biologist by training, Butcher also has considerable experience in the political arena and sees her new role as a point of contact between these often disparate worlds: “I want our association to be the connection point between the science industry and government; I want our association to promote the value of the science industry to government and the wider community.”
Butcher wants to see the SIA’s role grow through an all-inclusive approach: “SIA represents the professional science industry in Australia; to do this we need to be truly representative. Under my leadership I want to see SIA and ALMA (Australasian Laboratory Managers Association) expand its membership and representation; I want to work with our members to be active participants in the association and realise that their contributions can make a difference.”
The SIA has recently undergone a renewal process and Butcher expects it will take time to embed these changes in the association: “We have a very small team, a dedicated membership base and supportive board; these combined give SIA a solid grounding for growth of our association. I am enthusiastic about the future possibilities for both SIA and ALMA.”
Butcher’s career has encompassed both hands-on research and the more delicate arena of policy work, giving her an ideal range of experience to liaise between the various stakeholders that the SIA deals with: “I have a passion for science, innovation and the not-for-profit sector. I strongly believe in the vision of SIA and wanted to use my unique skillset to help drive this agenda. For me the role at SIA was a natural fit and a challenge I wanted to take on.”
She also sees her new role as expanding the influence of the local scientific community: “Given my direct experience with lobby groups, advocacy and policy development, I can see a major focus of my role at SIA will be to expand our influence in the government agenda.”
To achieve this aim she will be focusing on increased contact with members so she can take their concerns directly to policymakers and provide the industry with a mouthpiece on government reforms.
Growing up in Sydney, Butcher’s interest in science was sparked from a young age: “I was always interested in biodiversity, the theory of evolution and how the body worked… I was the type of child that would always have some sort of ‘science experiment’ set up in my room.”
She moved to Central Queensland to complete her science studies, majoring in biology, which led to an early career in applied research in commercial agriculture: “I spent a lot of time in safety boots and overalls climbing up and down grain silo complexes counting insects on handrails or trying to figure out the best type of micro-encapsulated impregnated tarpaulin to use that would limit bird damage… not your standard white coat laboratory research.”
This early work in grain storage entomology, pest control, fumigation and export quarantine control led to a government policy position assessing the pest risk of exotic plants and animals imported into Queensland: “In this role I found myself not only developing my policy and legislative reform skills but further developing my understanding of quarantine, imports and keeping standards for everything from a fungal sample through to a polar bear.”
Her time in government service also led to a brief run-in with the late Steve Irwin in an unusual locale: “In this role I also had the responsibility to complete on-site assessments of facilities to ensure compliance with keeping standards — this included checking everything from quarantine laboratories through to lion enclosures.”
The move from research to policy may seem a stretch, but she found that the two areas actually complemented one another: “Having a research and science background was very advantageous for policy work — it allowed me a fairly easy transition to develop evidence-based policy approaches to government decision-making.”
This government experience also exposed her to an area that is of particular significance in the Australian environment.
“Whilst I started my career in the government in the pest management area, the majority of my career has focused on water. From drought management, quality control, contamination and regulation, restrictions, efficiency, behavioural change management, infrastructure, development, customer standards, concession and rebate schemes, etc.”
Butcher is optimistic about the future of science in Australia despite some of the difficulties that researchers today face: “Being part of the science community for longer than I like to admit, I have seen many changes. I have seen many qualified people struggle to obtain suitable roles in the science sector. Funding models have changed and I have seen the commercial sector shrink, amalgamate or move offshore. Science can be a great career path — it can be exciting, challenging and rewarding! I want scientists to be truly recognised for the contributions they make to our life and our economy.”
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