Saturday, 7 January 2012

Life Sciences Teach Us About Growth

Some more good news! The Life Sciences industry (mainly focused on the creation and refinement of therpeutic drugs) is one area where Britain still makes a really major contribution to the world scene. We have four of the world's top 10 universities and there are welcome signs that the number of students studying physical chemistry is increasing. Indeed, it has been the International Year of Chemistry in 2011 and (unlike the Decade of Evangelism when church attendance actually fell!) there has been an increase in the number of students reading chemistry at university and there are plans to open two new chemistry departments at Lancaster and Kings, London. Since 2005, there has been a 25% increase in the number of students taking A level chemistry.

The science community must be pleased with the government's anouncement that there will be an extra £180m to fund processes which support getting the drugs from early stage development to clinical use (an area known by those in the profession, somewhat unfortunately, as the 'Valley of Death' because promising projects disappear into clincal trials never to see the light of day.) This is tied up with slightly more controversial plans to allow registered health care companies to access NHS patient records to support their research.  The 4,000 UK life science companies who could benefit will be able to enhance their contribution both to new treatments for a number of diseases and to overall economic growth, so this seems like a win win package. 

My husband's company releases employees to spend days teaching science in local schools and these days are always greeted with much enthusiasm by pupils and staff alike. They are also hugely enjoyed, it goes with out saying, by those released from workaday drudgery to be real 'mad scientists' under the attentive gaze of a class for the day! We need young people to study pure science subjects in order (among other things) to create the next generation of applied scientists.

It struck me that theologians ought to think along similar lines. Religious studies and
theology are valuable in so many ways apart from simply being of interest to those with a faith or the few intending to become ministers and priests. The study of theology opens a student up to history, philosophy, ethics, linguistics, sociology, psychology, art, music and textual criticism. One of my university colleagues once remarked that he was amazed that theologians seemed to have the capacity to be in dialogue with (and often teaching courses in partnership with) almost any other discipline in the university. The skills learned through studying for a theology degree can be used in so many ways.

Taking a leaf out of the scientists' approach to generating fresh interest in their subjects, we ought to be releasing our best theologians (and in this, I would include some clergy and readers) for days to help with the teaching of religious studies and other subjects in schools. In my last parish I used to help teach the A level philosophy modules in a local comprehensive; there were always a dozen or so students and I met some inspirational young people and learned a huge amount myself. Most importantly, I struck up some relationships that have lasted beyond the classroom as I've followed the students' progress into theology and philosophy courses and all sorts of related areas of study.  

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