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Science and society: A career and professional development course
Science and society: A career and professional development course

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1 Introduction to the course

Scientists are increasingly being asked to discuss and communicate social and ethical issues that arise from their work. Understanding these issues is also part of developing science and technology responsibly. And yet the formal education system in the UK often requires scientists to focus on core science subjects at the expense of learning about the social and ethical implications of their work. How then does a modern scientist begin to engage with these important issues? One solution is to provide opportunities for practising scientists to recognise social and ethical aspects of their work, and to develop knowledge and skills to discuss them with confidence.

This introductory science and society career and professional development (CPD) course has been designed to begin to address this need. It will provide an opportunity for you to recognise and have facility in discussing the social and ethical aspects of science in general, and your scientific work in particular, and some current issues in science governance and science policy.

More specifically, the learning objectives of the course are to:

  • begin to explore the roles and responsibilities of the modern scientist;

  • help you to gain insights as a scientist into the social and ethical aspects of (your) scientific research;

  • enable you to gain some understanding of the rationale and role of certain contemporary tools for science governance, especially public and stakeholder engagement/consultation;

  • signpost opportunities for you to contribute to discussion and debate on the social and ethical aspects of science, either as a scientist (participating in debates about your scientific work) or as a citizen (participating outside of your scientific discipline).

Finally, for this introductory section at least, we think it is worth noting that there is no formative or summative assessment associated with this course. We hope that you will reflect on what you have gained by participating in this pilot, also to engage with the evaluation team as they invite you to comment on what you consider to be the strengths and weaknesses of our approach. But you will not be formally assessed and issued with a ‘grade’. The real ‘test’ of how successful your engagement has been with the course will be whether you feel more aware of the broader implications of your scientific work. We hope that you will feel more conscious of the complex and often fascinating relationship between science and society – perhaps when you next discuss your scientific work as a ‘citizen scientist’ and engage with the views of non-scientists.

Of course, these are ambitious objectives for such a short course. We hope, however, to be able to introduce you to some of the key issues affecting how scientists engage with science and society issues, also to some of the core concepts and terminology used to describe this active area of research and debate. Taken together, and alongside the academic skills you have gained as practising research scientists, our hope is that the course will facilitate further exploration of these important issues through self-directed study, e.g., of some of the follow-up materials that will be on offer after the residential element of the course. (We will provide further details of how to access the follow-up materials in the final session of the residential element of the course.)