„Today’s students are global citizens“

Bryn Roberts is a new member of the Swiss Science Council SSC. The data and analytics leader, who works at Roche in Basel, values the freedom of academic research. This is also of benefit for the economy, he says.

Dr Roberts, you have been elected to the Swiss Science Council SSC – congratulations! Why did you want to join the council?

I was approached by the SSC, which I hadn’t known before. After finding out more, I was gripped by curiosity. I hope I can contribute to the council in continuing to create favourable conditions for innovation and research. For me, being a member of the SSC is an opportunity to learn from representatives of other disciplines and gain new perspectives. At the same time, I want to contribute my point of view as an industry representative.

Bryn Roberts is one of the 14 members of the Swiss Science Council, Foto: Alessandro della Valle

You work for Roche and also teach at the Universities of Oxford and Bristol as well as at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland. Why do you define yourself as an industry representative?

Although I am engaged in academic research and teaching, my main research and innovation is directed towards industrial applications, business and society, for example in the healthcare sector. However, on the SSC, I don’t see myself as a representative of Roche, but rather of the technology and healthcare sector in general. During my career, I have worked for, collaborated with and consulted for some of the world’s most exciting healthcare, life sciences and technology organizations. I want to bring this experience to the council.


What can universities learn from the private sector?

Quite simply: how to apply research! The private sector represents the real world, so to speak. Here, scientists can test and apply their skills on real-world problems and solutions for the benefit of society. For university researchers, industry and business offer a great opportunity. They can develop their talents and work in an interdisciplinary way, for example at the nexus of technology, physical-, and life-sciences. Because we practise this interdisciplinarity in the company, we can support university researchers in this respect.


Can the private sector also learn something from universities?

Absolutely! Researchers at universities are not restricted in the same way as the industry, which has to focus primarily on potentially profitable solutions. They relish a level of freedom for curiosity that is not as easy in companies.

We can bring great synergy in research collaborations between industry and academia, as the two cultures complement and resources, such as data, are shared.


University research data are usually publicly accessible, whereas industry research data are not always. Does that lead to problems?

It’s a complex issue; data ownership rights are a challenge for everyone. Experience shows me that the researchers are coping with it. At Roche, we work very well with academic research. Privacy and data protection are a particularly sensitive issue, especially in clinical settings, but we are used to that, too.


How do you experience the young students while teaching?

I enjoy teaching. The students’ curiosity gives me a lot of energy. They are the ones who will shape our future and often come with great energy and motivation, with a mindset of possibilities. I always reserve time for teaching, even though this is not so easy in my busy working life. I benefit from the young people’s perspective, which is not always the same as mine.


What are the differences?

The young people are all digital natives, they’ve grown up with social media and smartphones. Dealing with new media and technology comes naturally to them. The same is true for AI, which is currently causing a stir. And young people are global citizens. They travel, virtually and physically, speak foreign languages and are interested in other cultures. That gives me hope.



Bryn Roberts, a pharmacologist by background, works at Roche in Basel. He is a specialist in data, analytics and digital health, and a member of the Swiss Science Council SSC. He studied pharmacology at the University of Bristol, where he obtained his doctorate in 1993. He joined Roche in 2006 and was Global Head of Operations and Informatics in Pharmaceutical Research and Early Development before joining Roche Information Solutions in 2021, as Global Head of Data & Analytics. He also teaches medical informatics at the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland. His interests include AI, machine learning, digital health and scientific software development. In 2022, Bryn Roberts was appointed Honorary Industrial Professor of Data Science and Digital Health at the University of Bristol.