Stellenbosch University offers an M.Phil. Programme in the field of science and technology studies, with a specialisation in science and public engagement. The course content focuses on challenges associated with the communication between science, public audiences and stakeholder groups in society, with a special focus on Africa.  The course provides an overview of science communication as a field of research, and touches upon issues of credibility and trust in the communication of scientific evidence and its importance for political discourse.

The course is ideal for part-time study. Most students use year one for the coursework (with lectures in blocks of two to three days spread across the academic year) and year two for a research assignment. During the research component, students work closely with the research group associated with the South African Research Chair in Science Communication, hosted at CREST. Students are urged to work on topics closely related to the research areas of the chair. The key research areas of the Chair are: public perceptions and expectations of science; science in the mass media; science communication by scientists and scientific organisations; and science communication and social media.

Students who follow the MPhil (STS) programme, specialising in public science engagement, will complete the following eight modules.

1. Sociology of science

The sociology of science deals with the internal operations of science, as well as the relationship of science with its social environment. Internally the focus is on the isomorphism of intellectual fields, i.e. disciplines and research areas, and their social counterparts, on the attribution of reputation as the basis of the ‘social structure’ within science, and on the normative framework, the conditions and dynamics of knowledge production. The external relations of science refer to the closer coupling of science to politics, the economy and the media. Each of these has its own specific logic of operation which is different from that of science. Since science as a social subsystem is self-steering, the fundamental question is what happens to this autonomy of science, i.e. what are the effects of political intervention, economic steering and orientation to the media on the production of reliable, certified knowledge.

2. Science policy themes

This module covers such topics as the institutional arrangements and the policy instruments for funding science, and science and technology policy, as well as evaluation practices and the impact of New Public Management. The focus will then be specifically on the concept of national innovation systems which has assumed a central place in science policies throughout Europe, the US and South Africa. The assumptions and claims connected with this concept will be probed for the available data on which indicators are based that are supposed to direct innovation policies. This will enable students to acquire the critical capacity to analyse science policies, their potential and their limitations.

3. Bibliometrics

Bibliometrics is the quantitative study of the communication behaviours of scientists. Very specifically, it analyses the patterns of publication and citation behaviour of scientists and what such analyses tell us about the priorities of scientists, patterns of recognition and visibility of science, who collaborates with whom, who cites whom and how all of these have changed over time and still differ over scientific fields. The course will discuss the basic vocabulary of bibliometrics as well as its history over the past 100 years. Students will be introduced to the major journals in the field, the work of the major research centres in bibliometrics as well as current debates. Specific bibliometric indicators will be discussed in detail, with an emphasis on the well-known Journal Impact Factor and the more recent h-index. The course will also involve practical work in our computer laboratory where students will learn how to conduct their own bibliometric analyses on the online version of the Thomson Reuters Web of Science.

4. Research uptake and societal Impact

Researchers and research performing institutions are under pressure to demonstrate the broader impacts of their research beyond the numbers of citations achieved by research publications. This module will focus on the uptake of research in different user contexts (policymakers and practitioners) by exploring the different paradigms, frameworks and models of research uptake and use. There will be a special focus on the societal impact of research, which includes the challenges of research impact assessment, together with specific assessment approaches such as the payback framework and the search for productive interactions between researchers and society.

5. Science and its publics

Starting out from a historical perspective on the changing relationship between science and society, this module will focus on defining, differentiating and understanding the diverse public audiences for science. It will explore the nature and dynamics of the interactions and relationships between scientists and the audiences with which they engage. In this context the origins and evolution of public understanding of science, but also scientists’ understanding of the public, will be discussed. Issues such as public trust in science, public controversies based on science, and the ethical/moral/political dimensions of public science engagement are included.

6. Scientific communication

This module is about understanding how scientists communicate with each other within the science system against the backdrop of the sociology of scientific recognition and reputation. It will identify major role players and current trends within the science publishing industry, explain debates around open access and intellectual property, and reflect on how communication within science influences communication to policy and public audiences. Specific topics for discussion include the communication behaviours and practices of scientists, trends in peer review, the rise and implications of open access publishing and the politics of science publishing in (South) Africa.

7. Science engagement in society: theory and practice

This module will explore the rationale for, as well as the nature and scope of, public science communication and engagement. It will include a review of theoretical models in public science engagement, before moving on to reflect on global and regional trends and key issues in public science engagement. The meaning and implications of the so-called ‘science of science communication’, which is about understanding how and why people respond to new scientific information in particular ways, will form part of the module content. The practical component will focus on science communication planning and evaluation.

8. Science engagement in society: actors and platforms

Understanding the actors, processes and platforms involved in public science engagement is the core of this module. In addition to looking at the role of platforms such as science centres, science museums, zoos, aquaria, botanical gardens, science festivals, science cafés, science theatre, citizen science, science-art collaborations, media and informal science education, the module will focus on two key role players: scientists (in their role as public experts) and science communication professionals (who work as enablers at the interface between science and society). The influence and impact of the internet, and new/social media, will also be discussed. This module also includes a brief reflection on the history of science and society, and ethics in present-day science communication practice.

View more information on the postgraduate programmes at CREST.

Interested applicants should apply online on or before 31 August 2019 (non-South African citizens) and 30 September 2019 (South African citizens).

CREST offers a limited number of bursaries. We will invite all students accepted to the programme to apply for bursaries during October 2019.

Applicants need to be in possession of an honours degree or equivalent postgraduate qualification at NQF level 8.

Please direct all enquiries to Mrs Bernia Drake at or +27 (0)21 808 3394.

Students who are interested to study science journalism should contact the Journalism Department at Stellenbosch University.