My undergraduate degree was in zoology, my postgraduate training in philosophy of science. I didn’t go into academia straightaway, but in fact was a school science teacher for 13 years, in various London schools, including being head of biology at Quintin Kynaston. When I was a teacher, in the 1980s and 90s, school science had a much more questioning and critical curriculum than it does now, and it was this experience which led me into science communication.
Before coming to Imperial College, in 1999, I was trying my hand at many sorts of science writing, including radio plays for the BBC, children’s books of various sorts, introductory texts to the philosophy of science, and even a weather column for The Guardian. All this led me to become co-director of the Birkbeck diploma in science communication in 1995, while still a school teacher. A few years later I transferred to Imperial College, and became Senior Lecturer in science communication.
Imperial’s Science Communication Unit is unusual in many ways. There has been extremely low staff turn-over, and this has allowed a very particular style to develop and stabilise. The Unit combines serious staff expertise in the skills of the science communication industry, including radio, video, museums, journalism and communication strategy, with a great commitment to science communication as a craft that relies on critical thinking, humanities-oriented theory, and an interest in understanding culture. In the last two years many things have happened that encourages this approach: the pandemic of course, but also the growing interest in how scientific progress has intersected with social factors, including class inequality, and racism.
In addition to supporting this basic ethos, and representing it across the College and beyond, my research interests include the role of virtue in science, in other words the nature of the scientific self. I am involved in numerous international collaborations, all of them exploring innovative forms of science communication: in Poland, with the Jagiellonian University, the Adam Mickiewicz University, the Warsaw University of Technology and the Medical University of Gdansk; in Germany, with the Technical University Munich; and in India, with the Guru Nanak College, Mumbai.
Lacchia AR, Webster S, 2021, La Commedia Scientifica – Dante and the scientific virtues, Geoscience Communication, Vol:4, ISSN:2569-7110, Pages:129-145
Mellor F, Webster S, 2017, The Silences of Science: Gaps and Pauses in the Communication of Science, Routledge, ISBN:978 1 4724 5997 8
Webster S, 2014, Charles Darwin, The History Press, ISBN:9780752499406