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Several skills and capabilities in the biosciences were highlighted as vulnerable in a report released yesterday by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Medical Research Council (MRC).

The report details the results of a survey conducted in association with the Society of Biology in 2014 which looked across the science community – including academia, industry and learned societies – to determine which skills and capabilities are deemed to be at risk.

From over 120 responses, a number of key areas were highlighted as vulnerable, including maths, statistics and computation; physiology and pathology, and agriculture and food security. Interdisciplinarity, core research and a number of subject specific skills, including numeracy and taxonomy, were also mentioned. The current training and career structure for early career researchers was also highlighted.

Director of science policy at the Society of Biology, Dr Laura Bellingan FSB, said:
“We welcome the results of this survey and the opportunity it brings to inform the Research Councils and others of where to target skills development and capacity building interventions. UK researchers can only continue to deliver benefit for society and the economy if the necessary range of skills is available within the science community. Shoring up areas of vulnerability now is essential to ensure this, and therefore an excellent initiative by the Research Councils."

A number of initiatives are already under way within the Society of Biology that address some of the issues raised in the new report:

The UK Plant Sciences Federation published a report last year which highlighted a number of areas within plant science as strategically important for future supply of skills. The report also revealed that the UK's position as a world leader in plant science is under threat from a shortage of funding and a lack of stable investment in essential skills.

Encouraging interdisciplinary working is a key focus of the Drug Discovery Pathways Group, of which the Society of Biology is a core member. It is becoming increasingly important for researchers to move freely between disciplines and sectors in order to build networks and drive forward medical research as well as to support career development.

A number of initiatives are under way in collaboration with BBSRC and others to provide support for early career researchers and address skills deficits, particularly surrounding statistics and bioinformatics.