"Science means relevance."

13.10.2017 | Interview with Anne Glover, Vice-Principal External Affairs & Dean for Europe, University of Aberdeen, Former Chief Scientific Adviser to the President of the European Commission
Prof Dame Anne Glover
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(© Anne Glover)

Prof Dame Anne Glover

AcademiaNet: Teachers and lecturers influence students‘ thinking in science. How big an effect do they really have?

Prof Dame Glover: Naturally, you are learning a lot from lecturers and teachers. They are experienced and are the first real scientists you meet. Not just people in books. The classical role models like Marie Curie, etc., are very important too, but they seem very removed. Whereas when you are actually at university and you meet lecturers, then the scientists feel very human: for example, they often have to run off to get the kids or they talk about a party they went to or their holiday plans. They are just normal people and that is what science is about – normal people that do great science.

There seems to have been a growing skepticism towards science in the last couple years. What can the individual scientist do about that?

As scientists, we enjoy a high level of trust. We should regard that as something that is important and that we continuously have to work at. We need to deserve people‘s trust. That means, when we speak about our research, we must be honest about what we know and what we don‘t know. We need to be clear when something is a consensus view or when something is still at the development stage. As scientists, we are often measured on impact and that can easily lead to the trap of overstating the importance of our findings. This is dangerous, as we then loose the trust people have in us. We should value that trust and ensure that we keep it by staying honest and true to our findings.

Looking back at your career as a scientist, which advice would you give to young scientists, especially young women, nowadays?

Don‘t try and do everything on your own. It‘s a sign of strength to ask for advice or opinions, or to discuss things with people. Don‘t always choose someone who seems to be like you and do what you are doing. I, for example, wouldn‘t just speak to another female molecular biologist. I would, for example, speak with a male engineer. Or somebody who works in the industry. Then you get a real breadth of opinions and often different ways of thinking. Our worst enemy is getting into a narrow way of thinking and stopping to look at different possibilities. Simply: talk to different people and appreciate different approaches to what you do. That‘s really valuable.

Questions were asked by Sonja Klein for AcademiaNet.

  (© AcademiaNet)

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