Edit Magazine

The North American connection

Joanna Storrar, Executive Director of the North American Office, highlights the University’s activities in the US and Canada, and previews a packed calendar of spring 2016 events.

 Edinburgh alumni and staff in New York during Scotland Week
Edinburgh alumni and staff in New York during Scotland Week

The University established its North American Office in 2014, the fourth of Edinburgh’s overseas liaison offices, to support the development of its relationships in North America.

Edinburgh’s links with the continent go back centuries. Two signatories of the US Declaration of Independence, John Witherspoon and Benjamin Rush, were Edinburgh graduates; universities and medical schools throughout Canada and the US were established and influenced by our alumni; and many political, cultural and social institutions reflect ideas disseminated by the University.

Today, across the US and Canada the University has 20,000 alumni, 2,500 students and their families, dozens of university partners and a widening circle of commercial partners. Edinburgh attracts more students from North America than any other UK institution, which means these links will grow even further.

Pop-up campus

Following a successful pop-up campus in India in February, the next place the University of Edinburgh will pop up is in North America in a series of events from mid-March to early April. The centrepiece is a five-day series of events in the San Francisco Bay Area, from 12 to 16 March.

Northern California is home to more than 1,000 of our alumni, concentrated in San Francisco and Palo Alto, at the heart of Silicon Valley.

California community

Over the past several years, significant numbers of our graduates in informatics, electrical engineering, biological sciences, medicine and the humanities have been drawn to the technology, finance and research sectors in this area, and have found opportunities to make their mark.

More recently, the University has been attracting increasing numbers of students from the region for undergraduate degrees, exchange programmes and postgraduate study. A scholarship established by the St Andrews Society of San Francisco, with contributions from our alumni, aimed at one-year MSc students from northern California, will enhance the historical relationships between Edinburgh and people of Scottish heritage in the region.

Join our events

The University has planned a programme of events aimed at engaging with a range of communities to showcase our strengths and reinforce partnerships in informatics, humanities, energy innovation, medicine and health.

Below are highlights of events taking place 12 to 16 March. These will be followed by a dinner honouring Professor Emeritus Sir Tom Devine and Scotland Week celebrations in New York, and a visit by postgraduate history students to Charlottesville for a series of workshops with students at the University of Virginia.

Saturday 12 March



The Bay Area programme starts with a reception for students and their families who have received offers from the University. Some of our loyal and enthusiastic alumni, along with International Officers Scott McQuarrie and Tessa Birley, and Professor Frank Cogliano, Co-Dean North America, will talk about the extraordinary educational and social experiences that await those who take up their places at the University.

On Sunday 13 March, informal gatherings of alumni, volunteers and donors are planned.

Monday 14 March


Big Edinburgh Data

Professor Jon Oberlander will lead a networking event at Stanford bringing together researchers, alumni and commercial partners entitled Big Edinburgh Data. Big data is a topic that has become ubiquitous, but what does it really mean, and what does it mean for Edinburgh? Our School of Informatics is the largest, and highest rated, concentration of data scientists in Europe. We are one of the founding partners in the UK’s new Alan Turing Institute, which aims to be one of the top three data science centres in the world. We are building a new Data Technology Institute to multiply data-centric ideas and talent to produce positive disruption.

Three Edinburgh academics will talk about how big data is transforming their work:

  • Dr Ram Ramamoorthy will discuss robotics and machine learning.
  • Professor James Loxley will discuss text-mining Edinburgh’s literary heritage.
  • Professor Jon Oberlander will discuss Edinburgh’s unique opportunities in medical informatics.

They will also highlight the recent extraordinary growth in the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Edinburgh anchored by the School of Informatics – and give primers on the University’s plans for data technology and the digital arts.

Bill Russell (BSc Computing Science 1975), former Vice-President of Hewlett-Packard and chairman of tech company PROS, will chair a feedback session with alumni and friends on new modes of industry-University engagement.

Monday 14 March


Scottish Enlightenment

Other events on Monday 14 March will focus on the humanities. Dr Thomas Ahnert, Head of the School of History, Classics & Archaeology, will give a lecture on the Scottish Enlightenment to the St Andrews Society of San Francisco.

Stanford will host a high-level academic roundtable on the Enlightenment, organised by Professor Frank Cogliano and Professor Caroline Winterer, Director of the Stanford Humanities Center.

Tuesday 15 March


Transforming Energy Innovation: Global Opportunities, Local Solutions

Dr Andy Kerr, Director of the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation, will preside over a symposium at the British Consulate in San Francisco. California and Scotland are global leaders in seeking to transform their energy systems, from energy demand reduction and electric vehicles to large-scale deployment of renewable energy. Both are also major oil and gas producers and will continue to rely predominantly on non-renewable sources for their energy until at least 2030.

Dr Kerr and his colleagues aim to explore new and productive partnerships in energy innovation and research between Californian enterprises, investors and universities and the University of Edinburgh and Scotland’s energy innovators. Leading-edge energy companies, state energy agencies, clean tech investors, researchers in energy, enterprise networks and alumni of the University will discuss the way forward.

Wednesday 16 March


The Core of Compassion

On Wednesday, we return to Stanford University for a joint inter-disciplinary workshop entitled “The Core of Compassion”, exploring the science and the sense of compassion in medicine.

Dr Liz Grant, Director of Edinburgh’s Global Health Academy, Professor John Gillies, Honorary Senior Lecture in General Practice, and Professor Jim Doty, neurosurgeon and founder of Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, will chair an afternoon conference to highlight the role of compassion in health and end-of-life care, how we teach it, and how the rise of computers and robots in so many areas of our lives will affect us all.

Is it necessary to be human to be empathetic and compassionate? What is empathy and compassion from a non-living entity? Do the humanities still have a contribution to make to this discussion? These and other questions will be addressed.

Wednesday 16 March


Mozilla reception for alumni and supporters

The Bay Area events culminate in a reception hosted by Chris Beard (MBA 2004), Chief Executive of Mozilla, producer of the Firefox web browser, in the company’s Hills Brothers Coffee Building headquarters underneath the Oakland Bay Bridge. University Principal Sir Timothy O’Shea will celebrate with alumni, families and friends the ways in which the events of the previous days have stimulated new relationships and reinforced existing ones between the University and its community and partners in the area.


Friends wishing to connect with alumni clubs in North America can find more information on the University’s Alumni Services web pages .

North America alumni community