Angela McLean named first female government chief scientific adviser

MoD's chief scientist will replace Patrick Vallance in April
MoD chief scientific adviser Dame Angela McLean arrives at Downing Street in the early weeks of the Covid pandemic in April 2020. Photo: REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

By Tevye Markson

21 Feb 2023

Dame Angela McLean has been appointed as the first ever female government chief scientific adviser, taking over from Sir Patrick Vallance.

McLean is currently the Ministry of Defence’s chief scientific adviser and will move to her new role on 1 April. There she will provide independent scientific advice to the prime minister and members of cabinet and lead the government science and engineering profession.

As well as providing scientific advice on MoD policy, decisions about military operations, equipment, and novel technologies, and overseeing its programme of research, McLean has played a key role in the government's response to Covid.

She has been a regular attendee of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies that provided evidence for the government's pandemic response and acted as Vallance’s deputy, speaking at some government televised briefings.

A professor of mathematical biology at Oxford University's Department of Zoology, McLean also chaired the SAGE subgroup Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, or SPI-M-O, which repared advice for government using epidemiology, data analysis and mathematical modelling. In those roles she played a substantial part in generating scientific advice for government on the management of the pandemic.

McLean will also be part of the executive team of the newly formed Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. The department's aim will be to grow the economy by generating high-skilled jobs and driving improvements in health, education and transport.

It will aim to build on the UK's strengths in artificial intelligence, life sciences, quantum, fintech, and green technology.

Michelle Donelan, the new secretary of state at SIT, said she hopes the appointment will “inspire more women and young girls to see STEM subjects as an exciting career choice”.

“I look forward to working with her to build on the immense work of Sir Patrick Vallance to ensure that the UK remains at the forefront of the science and technology revolution,” she added.

McLean was also the first female top top scientist at the MoD, which she joined in September 2019.

Her experience working with government institutions dates back further, and includes chairing an expert group project advising on policy to reduce the risk of future disasters such as disease pandemics while working in academia. She has also sat on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ science advisory council and the Department of Health’s national expert panel on new and emerging infections.

She also co-developed the Oxford Martin School Restatements, a series of briefings reviewing scientific evidence on controversial policy areas that have been published since 2013 to aid evidence-based policymaking.

McLean's research interests lie in the use of mathematical models to help understand the evolution and spread of infectious agents.

Cabinet secretary Simon Case called the move “an excellent appointment for the civil service, to a vital position for the government and the country”.

“I congratulate Angela on her role and look forward to the contribution she will make in leading the science community across government,” he said.

Case also thanked Vallance for his “outstanding contribution and commitment to public service”, both in the leading role he played in the government's Covid response and “the great strides” he made in improving scientific capability across government.

McLean said: “I am delighted to take on this role at such an important time in our country for science, innovation and technology. All of us in government are going to greatly miss Sir Patrick, and I look forward to working with colleagues to build on the work he has led during his time as GCSA.

“My long-term mentor, the late Lord Robert May, held the post of GCSA between 1995 and 2000 and that personal connection adds a particular depth to my sense of honour in being asked to take on this role.”

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