Imperial is to collaborate with four leading universities in Poland to improve science communication in the two countries.
The aim is to build better bridges between scientific researchers, the public and policymakers in order to help shape policy and societal attitudes in areas including climate change and pandemics.
The collaboration was launched at a virtual event this week, attended by leaders and academics from Imperial and its partners - the Adam Mickiewicz University, The Jagiellonian University, Medical University of Gdansk and Warsaw University of Technology.
Imperial has existing links with these and other institutions in Poland – for example publishing over 1000 joint publications in the past five years with colleagues in Poland and collaborating together on over 80 European funded projects (Horizon 2020 and FP7).
One of the first initiatives to come from the collaboration will be a podcast series looking at different themes in science communication, including uncertainty in science. A website will be developed to help colleagues seeking fresh ideas in science communication, both in the UK and in Poland. The partner organisations will also seek to develop science communication workshops, with Polish and Imperial colleagues developing their skills together.
Empowering society through communication
The collaboration has been driven at Imperial by Dr Stephen Webster who is Director of the College’s Science Communication Unit. He opened the event by looking at the role of science communication in the world today and noted that ‘communicare’ - the Latin root of the word ‘communication’ - means to share.
“That's always how we’ve thought about science communication at Imperial: a matter of sharing, especially a matter of sharing ideas and sharing expertise. From the start of this collaboration the central idea has been that the university really can be a centre for science communication.”
Imperial’s Provost, Professor Ian Walmsley then formally launched the collaboration and signed the letter of intent. Addressing the audience, he emphasised that communication is a crucial tool in the overall mission of universities to bring benefits for society through discovery and innovation.
“It is not simply a question of inventing something and hoping that people will find it useful,” he said. “Rather, it is engaging with society to help a wide range of people understand what it is that we do, and indeed for us to hear from them what is needed. That dialogue is quite crucial and in that sense science communication has never been more important than it is today.
“It is also important that this is not a singular voice, but is diverse and reflects different views from around the world. And therefore, this collaboration is singularly important for us, particularly as we seek to continue to maintain and strengthen our links with Europe.”
The Polish perspective
Also speaking at the virtual event was Professor Bogumila Kaniewska, Rector of Adam Mickiewicz University, who emphasised that science communication requires a ‘diverse set of skills and team effort’. She noted that the collaboration involves university staff from science, social science and humanities faculties - also integrating outreach and graduate training.
Professor Marcin Gruchala, Rector at the Medical University of Gdansk, noted how the global Covid-19 pandemic had brought into focus the importance of communicating, particularly in terms of the evolving nature of the science and the importance of immunisation for common safety. He said that there was much to improve in this communication, adding: “universities are not islands, they have to be part of society.”
The potential for growth
Thanking the guests at the end of the ceremony, Dr Webster discussed the future of the collaboration. He pointed out that post-Brexit, Imperial aims to strengthen its links with Europe, and science communication is a natural way of bringing scientists together.
Like Imperial, Polish universities are now keenly engaging with their communities. Working together with funders, the collaboration has real potential for staff training programmes, student exchanges and projects, and even summer schools. Dr Webster summarised: “As with all that is best in universities, science communication is a matter of taking the imagination, and making it real.”
This article was first published on May 24 by Imperial College London.