Today is my last day as Chief Executive of the British Science Association. My first was on April Fools’ Day, 2013 – and I suspect some people thought the whole idea of appointing someone as inexperienced as me to run such an historic institution might have been a prank! Despite that slightly inauspicious start it’s been three and a half incredibly fun, often challenging, and always rewarding years.

The job has taken me from Newcastle to Swansea, Edinburgh to Portsmouth, and even from Seoul to Chicago. Despite that, many of the best memories will be working with the brilliant team here in our modest headquarters behind the Science Museum. Whether it's been frenetically preparing for our Festival or other events, dragon-boat racing on team away days, or me playing my role in the oldest of BSA traditions – dressing up as Father Christmas for our annual party – it’s always felt like a vibrant, buzzy place to work and I’ll really miss it. 

There have been tough times, of course, especially at the beginning. Back in 2013 lots of people were asking, ‘what’s the point of the British Science Association’? “And if we didn’t exist, would you invent us?”, was how I finished the question for my colleagues as we embarked on a strategic review. Answering it became our defining challenge, and I hope it will continue to shape what the BSA does and why it does it in the future.

We were founded all the way back in 1831. As is the case for many ancient organisations, there will always be a temptation to see our heritage and history as our reason for existing and the driver of our work. Start-ups and new initiatives are allowed to experiment and risk failure - but taking chances with a nearly two-century old institution can feel like asking for trouble. If you think like that, you forget the fact that the only reason the BSA – or anywhere - has a rich history to begin with is that at some point people wanted to achieve a change and were willing to innovate and take risks to get there.

Today, there are still changes that we at the BSA want to see. We still see science as one of humanity’s greatest and best inventions, we still want it to be used to its full potential, and we believe that this won’t and can’t happen if the only people who deeply care about this challenge are scientists themselves. The British Science Association is now dedicated to promoting our vision that science should be seen as a fundamental part of culture and society, rather than as a closed-shop that non-scientists can see the benefits of but not participate and opine in.

I’d like to say that we’ve made a huge leaps forward in our new strategy, changing British culture in measurable ways and helping countless people see a new side of science in a way that we weren’t doing before. But the scientist in me knows that we’re still collecting the data and refining our methods – success is more likely to take decades than years! The projects that my colleagues are leading now – whether that’s launching the 100 Ideas campaign, developing a new digital platform for our flagship education programme (CREST), or running our new ScienceLive service that helps anyone put on a science event – are the ones which will deliver that progress.

What I am really proud of is that we’ve built a culture within the organisation itself that encourages us to focus on the world outside us, rather than on ourselves as an institution. We translate our curiosity about science into a passion for changing the way science relates to the rest of society, rather than an expectation that society should simply appreciate science more. Every new project begins with a question about what impact it will have on our audiences, rather than on us.

None of this would have been possible without the support of a huge range of people. Partners in government, the private sector, charitable trusts, evaluation experts, volunteers, trustees, suppliers, science communicators – and not to mention our customers and audiences – have all been absolutely irreplaceable as we’ve changed who we are as an organisation. But most of all I want to thank the staff, both past and present, that worked alongside me or preceded me. For a relatively small charity with a paucity of resources, the BSA seems to be able to attract some of the most inspirational and hard-working people I’ve had the privilege to meet.

The staff that were around before 2013 created the stable platform for me to arrive and work from, while the team that I’ve managed responded brilliantly to change – both the change we couldn’t avoid from the outside world, and the deliberate uncertainty we created by reviewing and restructuring the entire organisation. I owe a huge debt to all of them, and can’t wait to see what they achieve next.
Most of all, my successor – Katherine Mathieson – has been an irreplaceable part of the BSA since I joined. My job would have been inordinately harder without her simultaneously calm and inspiring presence, and I can think of no one better placed to lead the British Science Association into its next set of challenges and opportunities.

Personally, although it’s going to be weird leaving the Association, I’m not going too far. From September I’ll be Head of Public Engagement at the Wellcome Trust – it’s going to be an exciting role at a different kind of scale, but I’ve no doubt that I’ll still run into the BSA’s staff, volunteers, and partners from time to time through it. You’re not quite rid of me yet! So – finally - a huge congratulations to Katherine, thanks to everyone for all the good times – and the absolute best of luck to all of the British Science Association for the future.