Speech — Doctoral College Conference: ‘Shaping Futures’, Welcome Remarks, 22 June 2021

Good morning, and welcome to ‘Shaping Futures’!

Since 2016, the Doctoral College has dedicated itself to supporting the professional development of future research leaders. Working across the University, the Doctoral College has built a cohesive community and research environment, providing first class training, facilitating excellent supervision and enhancing employability skills.

This conference is a wonderful opportunity for Postgraduate and Early Career Researchers, as well as the wider university community, to be inspired to imagine and create better futures for everyone. 

Apart from an impressive line-up of our young researchers and PhD students, I am also delighted to see the conference features leading Surrey academics like Amelia Hadfield, Tim Jackson, Jim Al-Khalili and Helen Griffiths (a special welcome to Helen, as former Dean of our Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences).  They are great role models as both academics and as people.

And the conference workshops on offer show how much the College understands and addresses the unique issues facing those at the beginning of their research career. At Surrey, we are committed to developing the ‘whole’ person – for a rich and satisfying life and career, wherever your path takes you.

Your conference theme, ‘Shaping Futures’, celebrates our continuing aspiration to take on challenges and push boundaries, and shape the future of our world beyond academia.

By coincidence, in just over a week I will be addressing another conference – called ‘What will the world look like in 30 years’ time?”.  This conference aims to consider what may be the key technologies of the next three decades, and how this foresight can inform research and higher education today.

If we hope to be ready for the challenges to come, we must start now to imagine what these might be. As researchers we must look over the next horizon. We must be visionaries, but we also have to be practical. We can aim for a desired future but also prepare for one that is unexpected and demanding.

The next five, or ten, or 30 years will certainly hold no shortage of challenges. Some will be familiar, while others will be entirely new. Building a productive and resilient research community – within, and across, disciplines — will be critical to being as prepared as possible.

And researchers themselves are playing a more vital – and public — role today, not better exemplified than by the extraordinary efforts of our scientists in the last two years or so. With the world in crisis, we turned to experts in many fields to help us respond, comprehend and recover.

We look to you now for continued dedication, determination and inspiration, as we try to shape the world for a future that is more difficult to predict than ever. 

My personal advice to you as a former PhD student, ages ago, would be to stay curious, keep an open mind, learn how to simplify things by going back to the basic principles, and never give up –especially when faced with hurdles and setbacks.  You will be rewarded for your hard work and perseverance.

Right here, today, you are shaping all our tomorrows.

Your work in research is particularly important in light of the impending Strategy Refresh and its exciting implications for research and innovation, which I am sure Professor David Sampson will talk about shortly.

In the meantime, thank you for your participation in this conference, and for everything you do to advance research excellence and impact for the University of Surrey. I wish you all a productive and enjoyable conference!