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    UCL Events blog

    By Nick Dawe, on 6 May 2011

    Reviews of UCL public lectures, debates, exhibitions, shows, and more…

    UCL Populations & Lifelong Health Domain Symposium

    By news editor, on 22 May 2018

    By Alice Welch, Fahreen Walji

    The importance of a transdisciplinary approach to population health research has never been more important, stressed UCL’s Provost Professor Michael Arthur, as he welcomed attendees at the UCL Populations & Lifelong Health Domain Symposium.



    Opening the session were two distinct accounts illustrating the vulnerabilities of migrant populations. Professor Sammonds described the natural and anthropogenic hazards facing migrants within two contexts and emphasised the need for “political will to solve the crisis”. He was followed by Professor Abubakar, who challenged the pervasive myths that exist about migrants and the societal implications of this. We then heard from Rachel Burns, an early career researcher, who highlighted the significant mortality advantage in migrants compared to the host population. Presentations from two other early career researchers followed; Dr Jeannie Collins presented her research on the increased risk of AIDS/death in migrant children on antiretroviral therapy, and Jean Stafford highlighted the substantial burden of psychosis in old age, particularly among females and migrant groups.


    Mental health

    Professor Miranda Wolpert engaged the audience with the finding that only 17% of people between ages 5 and 38 have had no mental health problems, and suggested we need to “rethink” our approach to mental health care. Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore went on to discuss the significance of social influence on risk perception in adolescence, after informing the room that adolescent mice drink more alcohol when with other mice. This was followed by talks from early career researchers; Dawid Gondek presented his research on the levels of psychological distress across the life course, Aradhna Kaushal explored longitudinal associations between religious attendance and mental health, and Dr Lydia Poole showed that depressive symptoms are associated with a greater incidence of chronic illness burden.


    Funder panel

    In this session we heard from representatives from the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust and the National Institute for Health Research, each of whom first provided an informative overview of their organisation, covering topics from funding schemes to research boards. A subsequent question and answer session saw attendees ask pertinent questions including the role of peer reviewers and panel members in decisions about cross-disciplinary funding, and the process of grant applications.



    Professor Nick Tyler discussed the need for transdisciplinary input to create cities that fit around its inhabitants, with particular reference to individuals with dementia. Next saw Professor Arne Akbar speak on the exciting development of a drug that can block excessive inflammation and enhance immunity in older people, and the potential implications for population health. Next, Emmanouil Bagkeris opened a series of presentations from early career researchers with a description of his research into HIV and fracture risk. Dr Sarah-Naomi James discussed the role of childhood disadvantage in the association between mid-life diabetes and older age cognition, and Dr Camille Lassale presented her work on inflammation as a risk factor for age-related hearing impairment.


    Vivienne Parry OBE: In Conversation

    This part of the day provided an opportunity to hear Professor Sir Malcolm Grant, Professor Dame Hazel Genn and Professor Dame Anne Johnson discuss issues critical to the future health of the public, including the sustainability of the NHS, whole system prevention, and the role of legislation in prevention. The session ended with the speakers providing their “big hope” for population health –Professor Dame Johnson’s wish for health and wellbeing to be placed more at the heart of research, Professor Dame Genn’s desire for more transdisciplinary research and Professor Sir Grant’s hope for greater integration across the NHS provide much food for thought.



    Next came prizes recognising the work of talented UCL researchers, presented by Professor David Price.

    Second prize in the UCL Excellence in Health Research Prize went to Dr Sara Ahmadi-Abhari for her Trends in Incidence and Prevalence of Dementia paper. Dr Briony Hudson won first prize for her Challenges to discussing palliative care with people experiencing homelessness: a qualitative study paper, which focused on the importance of having a dialogue with people who are homeless and finding person-centered ways to provide support.

    The award of the Early Career Researcher Prize began with recognising the impressive array of contributions to the poster exhibition that had been held throughout the day. Poster exhibitors Wentian Lu and Dr Andrea Smith received commendations for their research. The poster prize went to Dr Gemma Lewis for her work on paternal and adolescent depression, and Dr Camille Lassalle won the oral presentation prize for her talk earlier in the day.


    The Early Careers Network (ECN)

    We then heard from Dr Daniel Kelberman, co-chair of the UCL Populations & Lifelong Health Domain ECN. Dr Kelberman provided a brief overview of the ECN and the range of information available on its website, and encouraged researchers to sign up to the mailing list.

    This Domain Symposium helped all of us to better understand the value of multiple disciplines working together to tackle the current and future health challenges. The drinks reception allowed researchers to continue discussing the challenges that lie ahead long into the evening.



    Our greatest challenge: supporting schools facing the greatest challenge

    By Guest Blogger, on 19 February 2018

     Written by IOE Events

    The fifth in our ‘What if…?’ debates series, looking at how best to support the most challenged schools, featured the stellar line-up of the National Schools Commissioner, Sir David Carter, Sam Freedman of Teach First, Head of Passmores Academy (and ‘Educating Essex’) Vic Goddard, and Lucy Heller, Chief Executive of the international education charity Ark.

    While the correlation between disadvantage and lower educational attainment is not 100%, it remains a strong one. This has been a central concern in education debate for some time, but it’s something we seem to take two steps forward and one step back on (some might say one step forward and two steps back). We asked our panellists: if you were Secretary of State, what would you do to crack this problem once and for all? This required some radical ideas; what we got was radical but also practicable (well, in theory at least – even the suggestion of moving Parliament to Sheffield; the upcoming re-fit does provide the opportunity, after all…).

    Read the rest of this entry »

    From blurred lines to legal loop holes: how McMafia presents globalised entrepreneurship

    By Natasha Downes, on 15 February 2018

    Written by Natasha Downes, Media Relations Manager, UCL

    The BBC drama McMafia has been the talk of the moment. So much so, that Security Minister Ben Wallace recently admitted to exploiting the success of the programme to raise public awareness of transnational crime, and announce that oligarchs would have to explain the sources of their income.

    When government officials jump on a fictional TV drama to announce a crackdown on Russian oligarchs, the implication is that Russian’s really are at the heart of organised crime. A message further reinforced by media headlines such as ‘McMafia is a documentary, not a drama’.


    But is McMafia really art imitating life?

    On Wednesday 7 February at the Darwin Lecture Theatre of UCL, I attended McMafia: The Reality, chaired and organised by Dr Ben Noble (UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies), to hear four academics he brought together discuss the scope of whether McMafia is a work of fiction or a work of reality.

    Dr Mark Galeotti (Institute of International Relations, Prague) opened up the session by discussing the origins of the emblematic Russia mafia narrative. He talked of the ‘original gangster’ which many associate with the Chechens due to the successful scaling of their franchise of fear.

    With the break-up of the Soviet Union in the late 1990s many newly rich oligarchs moved their money somewhere safe, and this is more or less, when the boundaries between business, crime and politics became imperceptible.

    But this narrative of mafia is not so simple, because organised crime is essentially transnational. It may happen in Russia, but it also takes place all over the world. Businessmen and businesswomen, gangsters and corrupt state representatives operate within their own districts and national networks, and link up to form an international system of organised crime. Dr Alexander Kupatadze (Kings, Russia Institute) calls this the continuous loop of transnational trade.

    In McMafia, Russians are depicted as the wholesalers; the one-stop-shop for criminality. They are the service providers blending upper world legal forces. According to Dr Philippa Hetherington (UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies) this is a narrative that exploits negative stereotypes. Speaking on the panel she called for a more critical viewer. She highlighted how easily McMafia slips into worn stereotypes of Slavic women being trafficked by Russian men of Jewish descent to the ‘Middle East’. When in fact sex trafficking is a global problem, affecting women of all nationalities.

    Dr Hetherington warns of the dangers of allowing these stereotypes to prevail. These are what she calls cultural and radicalised stereotypes, which feed into the notion of otherness about Russia and the Middle East. It negatively reinforces the trope that foreigners bring us problems.

    Professor Alena Ledeneva (UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies) attributed this to the media’s difficulty in communicating complexity.  Speaking on the panel, she carefully peeled away the narrative; exploring what McMafia alludes to rather than explicitly portrays.

    Professor Ledeneva discussed how McMafia arouses the tensions of globalisation. Alex, McMafia’s central character, handles global transactions from his almost clinical London office, but he also travels and has a lot of international partners. So, she asks, why do we refer to Russians?

    McMafia is a series that highlights what Professor Ledeneva calls the political roof of organised crime. The monopoly of legitimate violence. The blurred lines of globalised entrepreneurship – where what we see may be unethical and immoral but is in fact ‘legal’. Here we see that organised crime has surpassed the capability and capacity of law enforcement, and it’s a difficult message for audiences to swallow.

    Professor Ledeneva seemed to suggest that modern capitalism depicted in McMafia, and the real world City of London which we associate Alex with, doesn’t provide a view on morality.

    The McMafia event helped the audience to think more critically about the grey areas. The line between formal and informal, family and business, strategies of survival vs strategies of the system. In McMafia Alex says he is a broker for survival, but he is also about competitive advantage and creating a level playing field.  Strategy is essential for the successful operation of McMafia.

    We travel between a set of standards which are fluid, and choice is a central motif of the McMafia narrative.  Arguably Alex has a choice, many choices in fact, but as Professor Ledeneva highlights these are complex choices, and ones in which social structures and cultures may come into play.

    These attempts to contextualise McMafia help us to better understand individuals but also the system of organised crime. Professor Galeotti importantly emphasised that we mustn’t conflate organised crime with corruption; the people at the top moving money don’t sit down with gangsters despite what McMafia portrays.

    McMafia is gripping television at its finest, and academic insight helps to remind us that we should be careful blurring fiction with reality, because the reality is always more complex.



    MD4: Mysticism and Insecurity

    By Jacinta M Mulders, on 5 January 2018

    MD4 at The Koppel Project. Photo credit: Kai Syng Tan

    The Global Engagement Funds are intended to support UCL academics collaborating with colleagues based in other countries. Last year, they enabled Professor Andrew Stahl of the UCL Slade School of Fine Art to bring several brilliant Thai artists to the UK for a fourth edition of Monologue/Dialogue. Curated by Professor Stahl, Monologue/Dialogue is an exhibition series alternating between Thailand and the UK. Originating from a British Council initiated and funded residency and exhibition in Bangkok, Professor Stahl has organised and participated in the project since 2006. The key focus of the project has been to celebrate transcultural conversations by bringing together artists mainly from Thailand and the UK but also from different parts of the world to install or construct work together, and develop existing contacts between UK and Thai universities and in some way to reflect on the transcultural nature of today’s discourse for artists.

    This edition, ‘MD4: Mysticism and Insecurity’, took place in London’s Koppel Gallery in Baker Street. It involved 16 artists mainly from Thailand and the UK, but also from Singapore, Bangladesh, China and Japan.

    In collaboration with Dr Kai Syng Tan (UCL Institute of Advanced Studies), an artist, curator, and researcher, Professor Stahl organised numerous events in the gallery including tours of the exhibition and discussions engaging the public, students and artists. The project received additional funding from the Royal Thai Embassy and was opened by his Excellency the Thai ambassador.