Boundless commitment • Science outreach in practice

2021-12-08

Half a century after Science outreach was written into the Higher Education Act, the researchers at the Faculty of Pharmacy are frequently engaged as experts in the media. They contribute knowledge in government inquiries and navigate international collaborations. But how can a young researcher prepare for a career in the limelight?

Sara Mangsbo, researcher in immuno-oncology, talks about cancer vaccines on TV4
Sara Mangsbo, researcher director in immuno-oncology, talks about cancer vaccines on TV4

1977 was an eventful year for Sweden's universities. With the Higher Education Reform, the degree titles were abolished, the The Swedish Scholastic Assessment Test was added and, above all, science outreach was legislated. Finally, the researchers would leave their alleged ivory towers and tell about their work. And voices have been heard. Some have gone so far as to write off science outreach as a product off the drawing board – even Hans Rosling expressed doubts about its function in the university structure. Still, the vast majority are convinced that it fulfills an important purpose.

“Every researcher has a responsibility to take the results of their research into society. This does not mean that everyone has to be crammed into a TV studio. Some are simply better fit for the screen and media are quick to find their darlings. On the other hand, we must contribute knowledge, comments and recommendations where it adds value,” says Sofia Kälvemark Sporrong, Professor of Social Pharmacy and a well-known voice in the pharmaceutical debate.

Sofia Kälvemark Sporrong, Professor of Social Pharmacy
Sofia Kälvemark Sporrong, Prof. of Social Pharmacy

So, what exactly is expected of our Swedish universities? Initially, the legal text was no more specific than that they should spread knowledge about their research. Over the years, the wording has been sharpened, and since July 2021, the Higher Education Act requires collaboration with society for mutual exchange and that the university's knowledge and competence benefit society.

“Science must make its voice heard in the public discourse, and in general we are good at it in Sweden. Right now we hear political scientists explain what is happening in the parliament and epidemiologists comment on the pandemic in brilliant ways. The key is not to get caught up in details and to accept occasional misinterpretations. I myself received important training during my time at the Institute for Future Studies, where they consistently sent out younger employees, and if it was up to me, the universities should invest more in media training for junior researchers,” says Sofia Kälvemark Sporrong.

Two key aspects of science outreach are education and dispersion of knowledge. Since July 2021, Sweden's universities have been tasked with promoting lifelong learning. At the Faculty of Pharmacy, this assignment has already resulted in a broadened range of freestanding courses. In parallel, U-FOLD – a forum for addiction research – works to unite society in knowledge exchange and new measures against addiction.

“In 2011, a national inquiry identified the need for a Swedish competence center with focus on drug addiction. In Uppsala, we already had the university's addiction researchers, the Medical Products Agency, the County Administrative Board, the Region and several other organisations who were all deeply engaged in the ANDT work. The foundation was there, and the same autumn we united in U-FOLD. Recently, our forum celebrated ten years in a packed university main auditorium and today our local initiative reaches far beyond our region's borders,” says Fred Nyberg, Senior Professor at the Department of Pharmaceutical Biosciences.

Fred Nyberg, Senior Professor
Fred Nyberg, Senior Professor

When Fred Nyberg was appointed by the government as Professor of Biological Research on Drug Addiction at the Medical Research Council (MFR), he was also given the task to provide knowledge in the public debate. With the assignment at MFR and later at the government initiatives Mobilisation against Drugs and the ANDT Council, he found himself in constant demand by Swedish journalists, an often vulnerable position that required conscious strategies.

“I learned early on the importance of straightforward, simple answers and to quickly overview and comment on new studies. If you are too scientific or use too many words, the journalists will take the question elsewhere, and not necessarily where the knowledge is. At the same time, the limelight can be demanding. For example, the drug-liberal voices are few but loud, and explaining the risks of cannabis inevitably leads to criticism on social media. So you do not just have to know which debates to choose and how to handle them. You also need to know how to deal with any aftermath, and that is something researchers must be taught already at an early age,” says Fred Nyberg.

Several universities also place great focus on developed industrial collaboration. The incentives include new research, better products and future competence. Since 2020, the Faculty of Pharmacy has been the hub of SweDeliver – a world-leading research and competence center in drug delivery. Here, academia and industry unite to jointly take on the challenges facing the development of new drugs and treatments.

“SweDeliver provides the Faculty of Pharmacy access to industrial infrastructure and expertise in drug development. Our industrial partners, in turn, get to work close to our faculty's basic research, while synergies arise between all parties. It is without a doubt a win-win, both for us who work within SweDeliver, but also for Swedish life science,” states Christel Bergström, Center Director and Professor of Molecular Pharmaceutics.

Christel Bergström, Professor and Center Director
Christel Bergström, Professor and Center Director

At the core of SweDeliver are the eighteen junior researchers who at the center develop the strategic competencies they need to shape the future of drug delivery. With supervisors and mentors at both academia and industry, they are offered a unique education as well as an extensive network along the way to leading positions in the Swedish life science sector.

“Universities must put more effort into the ability to present research in an understandable way. Within SweDeliver, we have therefore initiated a work package where PhD students and postdocs have the opportunity to talk about their research to a wider audience and get a clearer picture of how their work fits into a larger context. Next, we prepare increased mobility for our senior researchers, and hope to enable exchanges between faculty and companies as soon as the pandemic allows,” Christel Bergström continues.

In summary, science outreach is central to the Faculty of Pharmacy. Our researchers carry out a significant part of their work in collaboration with the surrounding society. The faculty's partners are close: within the university and Uppsala, but also far beyond regional and national borders. In parallel, the researchers are frequently engaged as experts in the media, debates and inquiries where they constitute a pharmaceutical voice for a healthier society.

“Our disciplinary domain's close collaboration with, among others, the University Hospital, SciLifeLab and Testa Center makes Uppsala a perfect environment for leading pharmaceutical companies to locate their studies. As Deputy Dean for collaboration, I also see good opportunities for a more structured collaboration with the Medical Products Agency, the University of Agriculture and the Swedish Veterinary Institute. Once there, we can also take full advantage of our faculty's unique ability to mobilize all the competencies required to develop a drug from laboratory to clinical treatment,” states Christel Bergström.

FACTS

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CONTACT

Christel Bergström, Faculty of Pharmacy
Deputy Dean, Collaboration
Christel.Bergstrom@farmaci.uu.se

text: Magnus Alsne, photo: Mikael Wallerstedt, TV4, Swedish Pharmaceutical Society

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Last modified: 2022-03-31