New honorary doctors are media savvy
3 February 2023
Uppsala University recently welcomed 24 new honorary doctors. Three of them work in research communication in various ways: Ulrika Björkstén, a science journalist on Sveriges Radio, journalist and author Alexander Masters, and Agnes Wold, a professor at the University of Gothenburg and high-profile twitter user.
A couple of days prior to the doctoral conferment ceremony, a seminar was held in the Humanities Theatre on the English Park Campus on the subject of how researchers can use social media. The main attraction was Agnes Wold, professor of clinical bacteriology at Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg. Professor Wold has a longstanding media presence and is a regular contributor to debates on health myths. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she reached a large audience via Twitter.
“I joined Twitter 10 years ago and I find this type of interaction very enjoyable. It wasn’t my intention to use Twitter to disseminate knowledge but people began to ask questions.”
Wold loves to teach and perhaps this is the motivation behind her tweets. In the early days of the pandemic she started a course on infection tracking and it was this that led her to begin tweeting on infection issues and the pandemic.
“I find it relaxing; I do it during my free time and it has never been my intention to educate the public in a professional capacity. When people ask questions, I answer them.”
Communicating research results
It precisely for her ability to communicate research results to the public that she has been awarded an honorary doctorate. As a medical doctor, she is particularly delighted to receive this recognition from the Faculty of Science and Technology and in Uppsala, the city where she grew up.
“I lived in Uppsala until I was 15 years old. My family moved to Gothenburg in 1970 and I’ve lived there ever since. I still have relatives up here and my sister lives here.”
What does this honorary doctorate mean to you?
“I’m delighted. I was genuinely surprised! I’m especially pleased that it was at the Faculty of Science and Technology. I have Degree of Bachelor of Science in Chemistry, Biology and Immunology and I’m a laboratory person at heart.”
Web campaign for cancer study
Alexander Masters is an author and freelance journalist based in the United Kingdom. He is a new honorary doctor in the Disciplinary Domain of Medicine and Pharmacy. He is being recognised for his committed journalism, which has been crucial to establishing a unique clinical trial for seriously ill cancer patients at Uppsala University Hospital.
“I work with two amazing patient representatives, communication consultants Dominic Nutt and Liz Scarff, who work professionally with web campaigns. Through our world of creative writing and journalism, we helped to raise the funds needed to conduct clinical trials of a promising cancer product developed at Uppsala University,” says Masters.
Together, they solved a problem that was potentially preventing work to save lives.
"Despite knowing nothing about academic methods, customs or traditions, we succeeded with our campaign and our lobbying for cancer research."
What is your relationship with Uppsala University like today?
"It’s great! I drink my morning coffee from an Uppsala University mug and read the University's magazine while I’m eating breakfast. Then I turn to my endlessly patient friend Magnus Essand, professor of gene therapy at Uppsala University, whenever I need advice about something new that we are working on to benefit patients.”
Funding a recurring theme
Masters has continued his commitment to cancer research and is still working to help patients and patient organisations. Above all, he tries to find ideas for solving deep-seated problems with neglected clinical trials.
"In my case, it always comes back to funding. and that’s how my interest in Uppsala University began. At the moment I’m working with researchers at the universities in Oxford and Warwick to fund mass studies of comorbidity in old age, something that obviously includes cancer.”
Returning to the English Park Campus
Sveriges Radio’s science correspondent Ulrika Björkstén spent part of her doctoral studies at the Department of Physical Chemistry, which was located on the English Park Campus. She is now being installed as an honorary doctor at the Faculty of Arts.
What does this title mean to you?
"It means a great deal. I’m especially pleased and honoured that it is at the Faculty of Arts; essentially I’m a scientist, but I’ve always tried to place science in a social sciences and humanities context.”
As a doctoral student in Switzerland under Professor Grätzel, Björkstén spent a couple of months at the Department of Physical Chemistry in Uppsala. Anders Hagfeldt, current Vice-Chancellor of Uppsala University, was then a doctoral student at the same department.
"Anders and I sat in the basement on the English Park Campus making the very first Grätzel solar cells in Uppsala. I had a great time during those months and it’s particularly pleasing to have been part of something that became so very important for Uppsala.”
Asking the same critical questions
Björkstén has been conveying research and science in her work for many years and she feels that attitudes to scientific journalism have changed.
"There may be an outdated view of science journalism and communicating research as something one-way, that its’ a matter of delivering finished knowledge. I see the role of science journalism as asking the same questions that journalists should always be asking. You’re there to ask questions on behalf of the public based on your own knowledge and background. It’s important to be an active channel in the dialogue between society and science,” says Björkstén.
"This view of the role of science journalism has become more prevalent and well-established as our societal challenges have demanded scientific answers. I have had the opportunity to be around during a period when science journalism has developed from something viewed as traditional popular science to become a more active journalistic field.”
Annica Hulth, Cecilia Yates, Sandra Gunnarsson
24 new honorary doctors
The new honorary doctors will also be inaugurated at the Doctoral Degree Conferment Ceremony on 27 January. This year, 24 people have been selected to become honorary doctors following outstanding scholarly contributions or through their promotion of research at the University in some other way.
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