Alice May Roberts

Presentation address by Professor Lisa Roberts


Whether rooted in the field, the laboratory or the office, the ground-breaking research of leading universities helps us to understand our past, to improve our present and to prepare for our future.

Today we celebrate an academic who excels in taking new insights and knowledge from university laboratories and lecture halls into the nation’s living rooms. A prolific writer and broadcaster on anatomy, physiology, evolution, archaeology and history, she is an articulate voice for the importance of education and learning in society and an inspirational figure. 

Professor Alice Roberts is familiar to millions through her broadcasting.  She has presented television series including Coast, The Incredible Human Journey, The Celts, Horizon, and BBC Radio 4’s Costing the Earth. Her most recent book – The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being – was shortlisted for the Wellcome Trust Book Prize in 2015 and is her seventh popular science book. 

In a crowded field of science communicators, Alice Roberts excels by opening up subjects with expertise, enthusiasm and an enviable clarity, never hiding behind technicalities or jargon.  Her own academic expertise is in anatomy, osteoarchaeology – the study of human bones from archaeological sites – and physical anthropology. This takes her tens of thousands of years into the past and all around the world, giving her a deep sense of our shared history and humanity.  

Alice has spoken about the artificial division that has emerged between the sciences and humanities and of her ambition to bridge that gap, recently saying: ‘Somehow this century, we need to put science back into our culture.’  This perhaps reflects her own background. She excelled both at art and the sciences at school, and aspired to be a surgeon.  After qualifying as a medical doctor in 1997, she taught anatomy, and based her PhD on her studies of human origins and diseases in ancient skeletons. Her television debut came in 2001, quickly displaying an exceptional talent – relaxed, engaging and invariably well-informed. 

Since 2012, Alice has been Professor of Public Engagement in Science at the University of Birmingham.  Alongside her teaching and research, she is a strong supporter of academic engagement with wider audiences.  Through her work and through her example, she reminds us that universities must always strive to listen to and engage with people of all ages and all backgrounds.

Chancellor, I am delighted to present for the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa: Alice May Roberts.