In challenging times we remain leaders in the battle – adapting, creating and advancing

Professor Alice Gast, President of Imperial College LondonIt has been a challenging year for everyone around the world. Nobody has been spared from the disruption and sadness accompanying the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Yet amid this distress we see the absolute best coming from members of our Imperial community. We see their compassion as they work to help one another. We see their ability to adapt to new ways of teaching and learning. We see their resolve to keep moving forward during a period when time seems to have stopped.
In my annual Autumn message to the College, I drew on my experience of a ride on the Ultimate, said to be Europe’s longest rollercoaster, as a metaphor for what we have all experienced this year.
The ride begins quite innocently: a lift hill followed by long smooth hills and some friendly bunny-hops. Then there is a second lift hill and a turn to the left toward the woods. Warning signs soon appear: “Hang On.” Hang on, indeed!
Then it’s chaos. Rapid turns jolt you left and right. You want to close your eyes to lessen the terror, but you need to see which direction you will be thrown in order to brace yourself.
This is what 2020 feels like to me. A benign beginning that turned into a nightmare ride, one that is lasting longer than any of us anticipated or wanted.
The moment when I realised that things would be much worse than imagined was at our Council meeting in February. One of the members remarked that as a leader in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic, shouldn’t we also be a leading university in emergency preparedness?
He was right. We began using our university’s greatest resource, our experts, and their scientific evidence, to guide our planning and decision-making. We prepared for the worst, and our community pulled together to deal with the rapid changes and shutdown.
The pandemic brought us closer together. As we learned more about the virus, we also learned more about ourselves at the same time.
We learned that in adapting to the constraints of the pandemic world, we are creating new ways of moving forward. Our multi-mode teaching is one example.
It combines the best of remote learning with valuable time in-person, talking to peers and professors, experimenting in laboratories, practising in studios and gaining practical training. The pandemic accelerated these changes and provided more focus on how best to use our precious in-person time.
We know we are not doing enough to address racial inequality and injustice. Remotely and in person we are responding to this call. We can, and will, do more to improve the College to make it an equitable and welcoming place for all. You will see in these pages some of what we are doing to show that Black lives matter at Imperial.
"We must all hang on during the rollercoaster we never chose to ride – our community is part of the solution"
We continue to be inspired every day by the ways our colleagues are mitigating the impacts of COVID-19 through advances in modelling, testing, treating and vaccinating.
The breakthroughs by Professor Molly Stevens and her colleagues in ultrasensitive medical diagnostics will help us, not only in this pandemic, but with early-stage diagnosis of cancer, HIV and other diseases. 
Other articles capture the inspiring work going on daily across the College. From the dramatic story of the asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs to uncovering the sketches hidden beneath a famous painting, the work of Imperial staff and students is enthralling.
Our students and alumni are reaching new heights, and I’m certain that you will find their work impressive. Our Science Fiction society, WE Innovate and our featured medics, staff, students and alumni remind us that Imperial people are creative, innovative, resilient and tenacious.

We must all hang on during the rollercoaster we never chose to ride. We do so with the comfort of knowing that our community is an integral part of the solution.  
May you and your loved ones stay healthy and safe. I continue to look forward to a time when we can meet in person once again.
Professor Alice Gast is President of Imperial College London and is an internationally renowned academic leader and researcher.