Imperial College London

President calls for courage in age of uncertainty in annual address


The Queen's Tower

The Queen's Tower, South Kensington Campus

Professor Alice Gast has stressed the importance of courage, collaboration and improvisation in response to emerging global challenges.

Miles Davis
Miles Davis (Wikimedia Commons)

In her annual address, she spoke of her inspiration from great jazz musicians and their ability to “apply their talent, collaborate and take risks.” 

Professor Gast said: “Improvisation is seizing the opportunity or challenge placed in front of you and making it produce something new and exciting.” 

She echoed jazz legend Miles Davis, who said: “It’s not the note you play that’s the wrong note – it’s the note you play afterwards that makes it right or wrong” 

President's Address 2020 - The Right Note

Our foundations: Facts and knowledge 

Professor Gast advocates for a fact-based approach to tackle the rise of misinformation and fake news in an ever more connected world. The spread of sensational stories about the Coronavirus outbreak, is an important reminder of this.

Professor Robin Shattock, from the Department of Infectious Disease
Professor Robin Shattock, from the Department of Infectious Disease, is at the centre of the race to develop a coronavirus vaccine

Praising the work of Imperial’s community in tackling the crises, she said: “Imperial College London’s mission is to achieve enduring excellence in research and education for the benefit of society. It is through this mission we make a difference.  

“We can be proud, inspired and ever more committed to this mission if we step back and look at what our colleagues are doing. Every day our epidemiologists, virologists, infectious disease experts, vaccine manufacturing experts, and technologists are working behind the scenes and in the news. They are providing discoveries, solutions and rational fact-based advice.  

“Our expertise, discoveries and risk-taking make a difference”. 

She continued: “Applying ourselves to crises, weighing risks, collecting and integrating facts, making decisions, and being able to adapt, are all traits that we value at Imperial.  

With shared purpose, common foundations, strong values and a fact-based approach, we can be courageous in our work and we can strike the right note.” 

Advocating and collaborating 

Imperial has been at the heart of efforts to persuade government of the value of science, research and education to the future of the UK, Professor Gast said.  With the Government’s commitment to raising investment in R&D to 2.4% of GDP by 2027 and 3% over the longer term, we must be proactive in taking advantage of the opportunities this presents, she argued.

Like a great jazz ensemble, we will build upon our strengths, collaborate with partners new and old, seize opportunities, improvise and create. Professor Alice Gast President of Imperial

Doing this requires collaboration with partners across the UK, across Europe, and globally. 

Professor Gast praised the government’s introduction of the new Global Talent Visa and Post-Study Work Visa – policies that Imperial lobbied for, and called for new incentives for collaboration across the UK in the way that the ERC has driven European researchers to work together. She also urged the EU and the UK to make Horizon Europe work for the benefit of all, irrespective of wider Brexit negotiations.

“In order to most effectively collaborate with the rest of the world, Britain needs to maintain and build upon its European network…The European Commission should consider Britain as its number one candidate for Horizon Europe associate membership. The UK government should do all that it can to make sure that we are first in the queue.” 

Imperial will continue to advocate for what we believe in, irrespective of changes in government, she said. 

Courage to improvise 

Professor Gast stressed the importance of risk-taking, throwing out convention, and being bold. 

Alice GastShe said: "We are a source of new ideas.  We collaborate. We can take risks. 

"We created the President’s Excellence Funds, which motivate our academic community to try new, more risky or radical research or teaching...We have had the courage to create and support new departments such as Biomedical Engineering and the Dyson School of Design Engineering.  We have forged new ties with online education providers producing some of the world’s best Coursera and EdX courses in areas from mathematics to public health.

"These new endeavours challenge students and staff alike to think, study and explore differently."

The power of philanthropy 

Professor Gast spotlighted the “pivotal support” of Imperial’s benefactors in achieving the College’s mission. This includes a landmark donation by Marit Mohn to support a new centre for children’s health at wellbeing as part of Imperial’s new School of Public Health at White City. The facility will drive pioneering research, education, and community engagement to improve the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of childhood illness. 

A transformative donation by Community Jameel has amplified and focused Imperial’s work into infectious disease and other health crises, including coronavirus, through the Abdul Latif Jameel Institute for Disease and Emergency Analytics (J-IDEA), Professor Gast said. 

Introducing J-IDEA: Abdul Latif Jameel Institute for Disease and Emergency Analytics

Rising to the challenge 

Imperial will continue to build on its strength, collaborate with partners, seize opportunities and improvise in the face of challenges, Professor Gast concluded: “There are many challenges ahead.  Misinformation, disease, climate change, global mobility, funding trends and government priorities. 

“Like a great jazz ensemble, we will build upon our strengths, collaborate with partners new and old, seize opportunities, improvise and create.

"Our foundations. Our collaboration with others. Our courage to take risks. Together we will find solutions to the challenges of these times” Alice Gast


Deborah Evanson

Deborah Evanson
Communications and Public Affairs

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Comms-strategy-International-university, JIDEA, Coronavirus, President, Strategy-collaboration, Comms-strategy-Wider-society, Comms-strategy-Real-world-benefits
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