A desk seen from above. On it papers and laptops and the hands of people
Science communication alumni agree on the need to look beyond one’s own field. (Photo: Pxhere)

TU Delft’s master programme in science communication faces uncertainty. Alumni are concerned. Two of them, Bram Peerlings and Sander van Welsem, compiled their views.

Lees in het Nederlands

On Tuesday 1 November, Delta asked whether the Communication Design for Innovation (CDI) degree programme, previously called Science Education & Communication, still has a future at TU Delft. As interested alumni we hope it does. After all, the degree programme perfectly complements TU Delft’s vision, the recent advice to Minister of Education Dijkgraaf, and is instrumental in closing the growing chasm between science and society. We are not the only ones who believe this, as transpires from the endorsements of more than 60 alumni that we handed over to the Executive Board in October.

Impact for a better society
“Science and innovation are only truly relevant if they meet society’s needs,” says alumnus Daan Vos in one of the endorsements. And this is exactly what TU Delft says it is striving for in the Impact for a Better Society strategic framework.

CDI also perfectly complements TU Delft’s vision that it defines as educating ‘new generations of socially responsible engineers’ and pushing the ‘boundaries of applied sciences’. Alumnus Kees Custers says that innovations in his field are dependent ‘on engineers who look beyond just the technical issues’. Leon Baas, who works in the nuclear energy sector, says “As this sector is so broad both politically and socially, while also being so deeply scientific, the CDI background is extremely important for me”. Julia van Liemt, Communications Advisor on sustainability and climate issues, recognises this. “My ‘technical’ master’s helps me understand exactly what sustainability entails. This is very useful, but I would never have been able to make an impact and get the story really embedded in society without CDI.”

Full component of scientific practice
On to Minister Dijkgraaf. One day before the article in Delta, he was given recommendations (in Dutch) for science communication for knowledge institutions. One of them argues for greater ‘dialogue between scientists, communications experts and civil society stakeholders’. The impending closure of CDI will, as also reflected in Delta’s words, go head on ‘against the trend’.

‘We need to close the gaps, not widen them’

Many alumni work in jobs in which civic dialogue is important. Sophie Smits’ experience, Policy Officer for Mining Permits for geothermal heating at the Central Government, illustrates this perfectly. “That I, as a reservoir geologist with a degree in science communications, can discuss the technical and geological aspects of a permit application, and can also translate it for the residents of the area at information meetings, means that I can bring people and technology closer together. It is not only about how something works, but why something is the way it is, what we can do with the technology, and what its use is for society. In my opinion, CDI is the bridge between these two sides of the engineering profession.

Making a connection with society
The most important reason why CDI deserves a new space, however, is the need to connect people and groups. “We need to close the gaps, not widen them. And we need to bring science closer to society,” says Jessie van Hattum. “You learn how to do this in CDI.”

‘We encourage other TU Delft faculties to open their doors’

Dewi Wesselman, who works as a sustainability coordinator, believes that CDI “is only becoming more relevant in a world with climate change, rapid technological developments, crises, and a huge number of information sources”. Robbert van Leeuwen phrases it even more strongly. “There is a clear need for CDI backgrounds if we really want to get out of the climate, nitrogen, energy, fertiliser and raw materials crises.”

For Lisanne Baak, Urban Planner at the municipality of Schiedam, CDI helped her “to work with people from different backgrounds and to come up with new and innovative ideas”. In Laurien Albeda’s case, the degree programme primarily helped her “develop an interdisciplinary way of thinking and working, and looking beyond your own field”. Marlien Sneller reflects on the following. “I started to see the importance of the human – so society – aspect in everything that you want to achieve.” Lize Dirrix sums it up. “You won’t get there with technical skills alone.”

So, faculty sought!
There will, however, not be a degree programme without a roof over its head. So we jointly call for the unique work of the CDI to not get lost and we encourage other TU Delft faculties to open their doors. In the words of alumnus Thijs Elzer, “This will allow society to continue benefiting from professionals who are able to connect societal needs and technical solutions in the difficult challenges facing the Netherlands, Europe and the world.”

Bram Peerlings and Sander van Welsem graduated in Communication Design for Innovation in 2019, in combination with MSc degree programmes in Aerospace Engineering and Strategic Product Design respectively. Being open to other perspectives, finding shared interests, and working in multidisciplinary teams are very important in their current jobs. They laid the foundation for these in CDI.