Science Diplomacy: Who are the Scientific Attachés?

Science Diplomacy: Who are the Scientific Attachés? 828 644 Open and Universal Science (OPUS) Project

Written by
Giulia Rizzo
Chair of the MCAA France Chapter
Postdoctoral researcher at INSERM

Science diplomacy involves using scientific collaborations among nations to tackle common issues and foster constructive international partnerships. In this article, three scientific attachés share their experiences in this field.

According to the Royal Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, science diplomacy encompasses three main activities: “science in diplomacy,” which involves providing scientific advice to support foreign policy objectives; “diplomacy for science,” which facilitates international scientific cooperation; and “science for diplomacy,” which aims to enhance international relations through scientific collaboration.

To gain a deeper understanding of science diplomacy, I interviewed three Italian scientific diplomats.

Who are Scientific Attachés?

A scientific attaché, also known as a science or technical attaché, is a member of a diplomatic mission whose role is managed by their country’s ministry of foreign affairs. The scientific attachés I interviewed are Cristina Biino from the International Organization in Geneva, overseeing Italian multilateral projects at the UN; Marco Borra from the Italian Embassy in Paris, handling bilateral projects between France and Italy; and Costanza Conti from the Italian Embassy in Ottawa, managing bilateral projects between Canada and Italy.

According to the interviewees, scientific attachés have five primary functions:

  1. Advising their country’s ambassador on scientific and technical matters.
  2. Reporting on scientific and technological events.
  3. Representing and supporting their country in scientific, political, and technical matters within foreign scientific and technical academies, industries, or intergovernmental organizations.
  4. Organizing events to disseminate specific scientific topics.
  5. Supporting their home country’s research network in the host country.

The role does not require specific training or a Master’s degree. In Italy, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issues an official call for candidates, interviewing them based on their background, career development, and language proficiency. Applicants must have Italian citizenship and be permanently employed at an Italian public institution. The contract for a scientific attaché typically lasts two years, with the possibility of renewal up to eight years.

The Pros and Cons of Being a Scientific Attaché

The interviewees highlighted several positives of being a scientific attaché, such as the dynamic and challenging nature of the job, the opportunity to influence and foster international cooperation, and working within a multicultural environment. They also noted the variety of potential career paths available after their diplomatic tenure.

However, the short duration of contract terms poses challenges for long-term planning and initiatives. Relocating for the position also presents initial difficulties, particularly in finding suitable housing and schools for their children, due to differences in educational systems and associated costs.

Advice for Aspiring Scientific Attachés

For those interested in becoming scientific diplomats, Cristina Biino recommends expanding their interests to include diverse subjects like climate change and artificial intelligence. Marco Borra suggests getting involved in international and multicultural associations and events to facilitate cooperation. Costanza Conti emphasizes the importance of interpersonal relationships, as diplomacy relies heavily on building strong human connections.

As science continues to address global challenges, the role of scientific diplomats is crucial in building bridges, fostering understanding, and advancing collective goals on the world stage. Science diplomacy serves as a powerful tool for creating nontraditional alliances and collaboratively tackling global issues.

Original article by Giulia Rizzo.

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