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24/07/2014

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Watercooler special: Roland's leaving party - the tie-breaker

Barrie Cadshaw spills the beans on the party of the decade

Barrie Cadshaw spills the beans on the party of the decade.

There were Lords-a leaping a-plenty at the British Science Association’s outgoing CEO’s send-off at the Royal Society on Tuesday. Volunteers, Honorary Fellows, former Presidents, ex staff, new staff, long-serving members, young and not so young all joined Roland Jackson to celebrate the decade during which he has steered the Association and the still longer time he has worked in the field of public engagement. Roland was also joined by his predecessor Peter Briggs and his successor Imran Khan for the celebrations, with a generous helping of past presidents including Martin Rees, Ron Oxburgh and Bob May, Nobel Prize-winner Tim Hunt and public understanding of science supremo Patrick Jenkin.

British Science Association's CEOs of past, present and future: Imran Khan, Roland Jackson and Peter Briggs

Also present was the Association’s youngest Honorary Fellow and winner of the first ever Young Scientist of the Year title, Peter Hadfield. He is keeping everything crossed that one of the eminent institutions to which he's applied gives him a place to do a PhD in Astrophysics (and supports his commitment to engagement and communication while he's there).

Amongst the many loyal and hard-working volunteers at the send-off was Milton Keynes Branch member Tony Kesten who claims he was responsible for the term ‘STEM’ in STEM education - he says it was he who added M to the acronym of the day (‘SET’) to recognise maths when he was the lead official on STEM policy in DTI. As such he was a Board Member of SETNET, as it was then called, and devised the Science and Engineering Ambassadors programme, SEAs. Again the name has since been changed.

We hear that a key up-and-coming priority area for the government is girls in physics, or the lack thereof. Well, science minister David Willetts can rest (at least one of his brains) easy as the Association’s Director of Education Katherine Mathieson stumbled upon physicist and Honorary Fellow Maggie Aderin-Pocock and Association of Science and Discovery Centre’s CEO Penny Fidler devising a plan to get more girls into physical sciences using the expertise of science centres plus the ubiquity of Guiding.

Imran Khan, Anjana Ahuja and Wendy Barnaby discuss what they were up to ten years ago Imran Khan was overheard joking with People & Science Editor Wendy Barnaby and writer and Honorary Fellow Anjana Ahuja that ten years ago, when Roland took up his role at the Association, he (Imran) had been doing his A-Levels.

Association Chair Julia Goodfellow commenced the evening’s speeches by saying that she had mistakenly referred to Roland’s departure as his retirement and had incurred his wrath. The ‘r word’ henceforth was never again used. She offered warm words of gratitude to Roland for his commitment to the Association and the sector, and commended the Association staff and volunteers.

She handed over to Association President John Krebs, who, holding aloft the latest edition of People & Science, announced his gratitude to Roland for his article ‘Ten years of Public Engagement’. John had been charged with giving his speech about the sector during Roland’s tenure and so the article had been hugely fortuitous! John went on to refer to the rise of citizen science, realising that he himself had unknowingly been involved in the movement. For many years he had taken part in such citizen science projects as the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch, among others.

Colin Johnson, former Association Vice President and long-term associate of Roland’s, then took to the podium. He described Roland as an ‘early adopter’ and recalled a meeting with him back in 1998 where Roland had raved about an amazing search engine he’d just discovered, spelled  G O O G L E. The rest, as they say, is history.

Colin informed the well-wishers that he fully believed he’d been invited to speak as he’d known Roland for such a long time that it was thought he might be able to dish the dirt on him. We were to be disappointed in the dirt-stakes but given the best laugh of the evening when, in talking about Roland’s departure and Imran’s arrival, he said: 'You know that running a not-for-profit organisation is tough when even the Pope decides to quit'. Quick to retort, Roland began his response by quipping ‘Thank you Colin, I must admit I hadn’t realised the Roman Catholic Church was a non-profit organisation.’

Roland continued in the manner of an Oscar’s acceptance speech, by firstly thanking his family, especially his wife Nicola, who was present. He went on to talk with enormous warmth about his time at the Association, his colleagues internal and external and the fact that during his tenure he’d managed to ‘see off’ 11 Presidents and five Chairs.

As the incoming CEO slipped away to watch MUFC get mullered by the Madristas, we’re not entirely sure what became of the departing CEO. However, the following morning a bleary-eyed Roland tweeted ‘On 7.06 from Paddington to speak at conference on trans-humanism in Exeter. Could do with anti-hangover implant right now.’ Thus explaining why Roland claims to recall very little from the evening itself - except for ‘I had a better tie than Lord May’.

Tie-breaker: Lord May and Roland Jackson

Er, we beg to differ. On assessing the photographic evidence of the Lord’s versus the baronet’s physical attire, an Association insider commented, ‘(Bob May’s) Elmer-the-elephant-inspired number contrasts with the multi-coloured-tetris one that RJ was rocking.’  Methinks RJ must have also been rocking the beer goggles when he picked that one. #callthefashionpolice

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Barrie Cadshaw
Barrie Cadshaw is at the British Science Association
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