UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies


Policy, Communication, and Ethics core stream

Science takes place in a social context, governed by national and international science policy. It is also often a topic of public discussion, in the traditional press and in other venues. Finally, science is so important, there is real need for critical and reflective thinking about research ethics and responsible science and technology.

Policy, Communication, and Ethics (PCE) explores science policy and the many ways science is discussed and put to work. This includes practical skill development in science policy making and science communication. It also involves developing tools for critical and reflective thinking in research ethics and responsible research.


In the policy dimension of this stream, we explore how science policy is developed and how it operates in the UK and internationally. We want students to be able to dissect key and developing policy issues, and we want them to relate their understanding of those issues to fundamental concepts in policy discussion. Policy content – the ideas, debates, and issues – is one focus. Governance is another. How are policies implemented? What can we learn from cases where implementation is done well versus when it is done badly? How do we consult interested parties when regulating the work of science, and how do we balance their very different contributions.

In the communication dimension, we explore different approaches to conveying and interacting with science. The stream develops practical communication skills over a wide range of techniques, from traditional journalism to ministerial briefings, from blogs and feature articles to pod- and video-casts. The stream also develops an analytical and reflective layer using tools drawn from many disciplines. For instance, how are ideas of expertise, objectivity, and disinterest used during discussions of controversial technologies? How do journalists shape science stories when presenting them to different audiences? How do we evaluate the effectiveness of science communication so we know how to separate the substance from the sensational? The goal is to produce knowledgeable consumers of science communication as well as knowledgeable producers.

In the ethics dimension, we explore themes associated with science and ethics, integrity, and responsible research. This is undertaken within the broad framework of philosophy of science. Topics include scientific methods and evidence-based decision making, intellectual property, human participation, data management, conflicts of interest, peer reviewing, and authorship. Modules develop skills with practical problems and critical thinking. They also develops an understanding of foundations and core principles.

These three dimensions share much common ground. We fully exploit this overlap. That’s a unique selling point of the Policy, Communication, and Ethics core stream.


By the end of the Natural Sciences programme, students with Policy, Communication, and Ethics as a core stream should be able to:

Policy dimension

  • critically discuss and analyze key issues in science policy (combining science, technology, engineering and medicine)
  • relate discussions of policy issues in science to fundamental concepts in the wider study of policy and governance
  • produce clear and impactful research relating to novel policy questions
  • present analyses that are clear, concise, and persuasive while also mindful of multiple perspectives and alternative solutions
  • provide reflective interpretations of decision-making, especially in emerging and controversial issues
  • present well-grounded plans for consultation and governance as they relate to developing and implementing science policy

Communication dimension

  • demonstrate practical skills in science communication and engagement, using more than one format and more than one venue
  • demonstrate practical skills in evaluation of science communication and engagement
  • relate practical skills to fundamental concepts in the field, such as content analysis
  • provide communication, engagement, and evaluation strategies for novel case studies
  • present a portfolio of effective communication, engagement, and evaluation, and demonstrate an ability to reflect meaningfully on their strengths and weaknesses

Ethics dimension

  • identify issues relevant to core subjects associated with research ethics
  • identify foundational principles and main policy concepts associated with professional integrity
  • evaluate effective practices for undertaking responsible research and innovation
  • demonstrate critical thinking about how to engage communities affected by emerging activities in science

Career options

Policy, Communication, and Ethics is a stream with clear career trajectories. Science is a global activity, and it involves many more careers than only those working in labs and fields. Policy makers, journalists, and ethicists are just three options. Add to these, careers relating to funding decisions, lobbying and advocacy, evaluating effectiveness, ensuring ethical and sustainable regulation, and improving social justice and well-being.

If you’re aiming for a career as a scientist, you need to understand that policy, communication, and ethics are transferrable skills that can set you apart from your competitors. Think of the media effort surrounding major space missions or major expeditions to exotic locations. Study how journals such as Nature and Science expect their authors to speak to many audiences beyond their specialist communities and to present their work as ethically sound. Count the number of documentaries both about science and about science policy that are broadcast each month. Life as a scientist today requires mastering policy, communication, and ethics skills just as it also requires computational skills, expertise with funding and publishing, self-promotion, and expertise with budgets and ethics policies. The smarter our scientists can be about PCE, the more effective they can be in their research careers.

Policy, Communication, and Ethics places particular emphasis on critical thinking and critical reasoning skills. We also develop solid writing skills and independent research. Our aim is to produce graduates with strong skills in these areas. This allows versatility in career choice. We also think a reflective and critical thinker who knows how to put specifics into a larger context will make a more attractive job candidate and a better global citizen. An ability to research new topics, and to think about them in innovative ways, always will be valued highly in the knowledge economy.

Real examples of careers from our students include:

  • researcher in a policy think tank
  • counselor for genetic testing clinic
  • journalist and blogger
  • analyst in investment company and management consultancy

Programme structure

Policy, Communication, and Ethics core stream follows the programme defined for the Natural Sciences programme (link). Students are welcome to discuss their preferences with the PCE stream representative (link).

  • HPSC. This is the prefix used by UCL for modules offered by the Department of Science and Technology Studies
  • PCE. This is used to identify modules suitable for students on this stream within Natural Sciences. This code is included in the module description (e.g., in Portico)

This lists compulsory modules for the Policy, Communication, and Ethics stream (minor). It does not list the modules required for all Natural Sciences students or for your major stream.

Year 1

HPSC1010 Revealing Science (this is the PCE foundation course)

and choose two optional modules from the HPSC 1000-level catalogue Term 2 options

Year 2

HPSC2006 Science and Ethics

and choose two PCE optional modules from the HPSC 2000-level catalogue

Year 3
Choose three PCE optional modules from the HPSC 3000-level catalogue


PCE optional modules can be found in the Natural Sciences Handbook, and in the STS module catalogue. This is modified by the STS Department Teaching Committee every year. Not all modules are offered in every session. Timetable constraints from your major stream may limit your option, but STS strives to maximize your flexibility.

Students may apply to substitute one alternative HPSC module for one optional PCE module, providing the resulting plan forms a coherent programme of study within the objectives of the stream. All substitutions must be approved by the PCE stream representative, and they are subject to review by the STS undergraduate tutor.

For more information, contact the PCE stream representative (link).