Passion and patience 


Alice Gast

Photography: Imperial College London/Thomas Angus

It is always inspiring to read through the pages of Imperial magazine and see such talented academics pushing the boundaries of discovery and to read about our brilliant students and amazing alumni from around the world, living around the world, and making the world a better place. We currently have eight alumni in the Forbes 30 under 30 Europe list, along with David Goodall, the world’s oldest active scientist, who celebrated his 103rd birthday in April. These are only a few of the many wonderful stories from alumni who relished their time at Imperial and have achieved so much since graduation.

I focused my 2017 Address on ‘patience’ and how important it is to have patience in order to see the full benefits from research discoveries, the value of an Imperial education and the fruits of translation of research, partnerships and philanthropy. One thing I emphasised is that we are passionate about teaching students. Education is at the heart of Imperial and we have generations of stellar alumni who make us proud of what we do. When I talk to our alumni all over the world I am impressed by the way our extremely rigorous education inspired them to learn, to think, to dig deeply into themselves to master the concepts. This hallmark of an Imperial education has shaped them as people.

While alumni educated at Imperial all have much in common, we know that the world is changing rapidly and our students are changing too. This means that we need to be open to new ideas about the way we teach. But we must do so in a way that does not harm what we are really good at. We must be patient.

We have created a new Excellence Fund for Learning and Teaching Innovation to serve as a catalyst for innovation in our teaching. Our first cohort of successful proposals includes innovative learning initiatives such as Professor Roger Kneebone’s simulated surgery workshops, whose highly realistic surgical anatomies and professional actors aid learning, and a project bringing together data on learning from maths, chemistry and the Imperial College Business School. We know that these projects will help us deliver our world-class educational experience.

I also noted in my speech how advanced education arose out of both secular and religious organisations to produce learned members of society and an educated workforce. Discussion about the value of a university degree is important, and yet I believe we have lost touch with these founding principles.

Too often today, value is reduced to a measure of salary, job placement or a student opinion survey. Our system of higher education brings much more to our society than we commonly realise. It is hard to imagine where the world would be without the millions of university graduates contributing to it.

How can we measure the value of an educated citizenry? How can we appreciate the lives well-lived and the communities that thrive thanks to experiences gained in the formative years in university? We see some of these values displayed in the pages that follow. Wonderful people doing great things all over the world.

It is also worth noting the great value in our international mixture of staff, students and alumni. Many have travelled, and lived, around the world; most have worked with, and sometimes shared their lives with, people from different countries. This international mix and experience contributes to creativity and productivity and is an important part of an Imperial education. This is evident from the stories of our distinguished alumni, our winning teams of student entrepreneurs, and the research our diverse academics are pursuing in collaboration with people from around the world. You see this in Sarah Malik and Henrique Araujo’s work at the forefront of particle physics in collaboration with the Large Hadron Collider project in CERN, along with scientists from 60 other countries.

This is all the more reason to cherish our international students, our colleagues, our collaborations, our visitors and our travels. As leaders embark on negotiating Britain’s exit from the EU, we need to know that Imperial’s colleagues who are EU citizens will be able to remain in Britain. While some may say this is a negotiating point with Europe, I strongly believe our leaders should take a proactive and unilateral position, and tell Europeans who live here today that they can stay. On our part, we will continue to do our very best to let European colleagues know just how much we want them here.