By j.chua, on 24 March 2021
Dr Kartik Sharma is an alumnus of the UCL Health Humanities Centre, filmmaker and founder of Public Arts Health and Us (PAHUS), an interdisciplinary organisation undertaking public engagement and evaluation initiatives to raise awareness of health and social issues through the medium of film and the arts.
PAHUS was conceptualised in Bangkok, Thailand and is based in New Delhi, India. It comprises of a board of international academics, artists and activists and frequently collaborates with universities, government agencies, research institutes, legal firms, filmmakers and arts-based organisations both in India and the UK. With support from the Hatchery, UCL Innovation & Enterprises’s startup incubator, PAHUS will soon begin operations in London.
Here, Kartik tells us how he’s been collaborating on a range of different UCL projects including a documentary and upcoming global arts and science exhibition opening on 26 March 2021, as well as his future plans and vision for PAHUS .
Can you tell us a little bit about the documentary you’re currently shooting?
I’m shooting a travel documentary called Myths and Beliefs in Rajasthan, a very colourful, diverse and culturally rich state in India approximately the size of France. It’s a UCL-led project from Pro-Vice-Provost (South Asia) Professor Monica Lakhanpaul and it is our latest collaboration together. I have travelled through six to seven cities scattered all across Rajasthan to film this documentary. I’ve had the opportunity to interview many different people from all walks of life, including royalty living in forts and regular people wandering upon camels. It will be another five or six months before the film sees the light of day but I’m really excited about it. I love filmmaking and using it to make public health and social issues more accessible, digestible and enjoyable for a regular audience. Today’s my last day in Rajasthan and tomorrow I’m flying back to Delhi to continue work on another UCL-led project, The Early Years: A Global Art & Science Exhibition.
How was the idea for The Early Years exhibition born and what will it involve?
The process started about a year ago when Professor Monica Lakhanpaul approached me with the idea of putting on a global art and science exhibition about the first 1000 days of a child’s life. I had previously worked with Monica to design a coffee table book for the PANChSHEEEL Project and directed a film for the NEON project. The upcoming exhibition is led by Monica and UCL Great Ormand Street Institute of Child Health, in collaboration with PAHUS and our India-based partner India Alliance.
Initially we wanted the exhibition to be held in-person at a popular art gallery in Delhi, but our plans shifted when COVID-19 struck and we decided to hold it virtually. On 26 March we’ll unveil the virtual platform with films, paintings and photographs collected from an India-focused art campaign. These will be showcased in an immersive way and later housed within the PAHUS web portal. We’ll also have a panel discussion on “The Power of Arts in Public Health.” Panellists will include Professor K. VijayRaghavan, Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India; award-winning photographer Mr Raghu Rai; Sir Mark Tully, former Bureau Chief of BBC New Delhi; and senior members from the World Bank, Save the Children, India and UKRI India.
How will the UCL Hatchery programme support your vision for PAHUS?
I was granted an entrepreneurial visa from the UCL Hatchery programme, which I’ll be using to set up a new base for PAHUS in London. It was very competitive and I’m very grateful for the opportunity. I hope it will help further expand my vision of making research more accessible and interesting for the general public! I hope to strengthen the link between my work in India and the UK, and eventually expand to South East Asia and East Asia. I envision PAHUS growing to be a public relations and engagement agency that crosses boundaries and acts as a bridge between the public and research – this has become all the more important as we have seen so much misinformation flying about during the pandemic.
When you build a bridge you need a strong concrete foundation with dependable pillars and UCL has been that foundation for me over the years. I am very grateful to my Health Humanities tutor, Professor Sonu Shamdasani, who allowed me to make my course as eclectic as possible. I was able to complete my dissertation, The Story of Madness in Indian Cinema, with first class honours thanks to Professor Sonu’s patience and guidance. I must also thank Mr Jivko Hristov from the UCL Hatchery who really helped me hone my business idea to make it work in a UK setting. Last but not least, I must thank Professor Monica Lakhanpaul for her continuing mentorship – I feel very lucky to have met a UCL professor who is equally passionate about the using the arts and filmmaking in research settings.
As a line goes in Cinema Paradiso, “whatever you end up doing, love it”. I somehow found myself founding PAHUS – and to be honest I am truly loving this journey.
By j.chua, on 30 September 2020
The Global Engagement Office is pleased to invite UCL scientists, social scientists, clinicians and engineers*, with an interest in helping us tell UCL’s global story, to apply for the opportunity to take part in the BSA Media Fellowship Scheme 2020/2021.
The successful applicant will spend two to six weeks, starting in November 2020, working at the heart of a media outlet such as the Guardian, BBC Breakfast or the Londonist.
You can read more about the scheme and who is eligible on the British Science Association website and you can watch a short film on their YouTube channel. You might also find it useful to read about the experiences of previous Fellows by reading this blog post or this one.
Ready to apply? Please submit your application via this online form. It will ask you a few questions about your interest in the media, your experience of global engagement and what you hope to gain from the scheme.
Extended deadline for applications: 23 October 2020.
*If you are a UCL academic but do not work in these fields and are interested in media training opportunities, please contact email@example.com.
The BSA are committed to transforming the diversity and inclusivity of science. BSA will work with Media Fellows to ensure they have a positive experience on the scheme and can accommodate requests for part-time, remote, or flexible working for people who would otherwise find it difficult to take part. Applications from researchers who are typically underrepresented by the scheme are encouraged, including from those who:
- have a disability, defined as a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term effect on someone’s ability to do normal daily activities (Equalities Act 2010)
- do not have an academic family background (e.g. parents did not go to university)
Please note, diversity statistics are anonymised and collected separately from the main application form. If you belong to one or more of the above groups, you are welcome to mention it in your form and it will be taken into account when assessing your application.
Any questions? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
By j.chua, on 15 September 2020
At the end of March, just days after the UK went into lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak, Professor Tim Baker (UCL Mechanical Engineering) played a vital role in the UCL team that produced a breathing aid to help keep COVID-19 patients out of intensive care.
The interdisciplinary team of mechanical engineers from UCL, clinicians from University College London Hospital (UCLH) and Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains, brought together by UCL Institute of Healthcare Engineering (IHE), worked around the clock to reverse engineer the Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) device, called UCL-Ventura. On 7 April, UCL freely released the designs and manufacturing instructions to aid world-wide response to the COVID-19 public health emergency.
So far, the UCL-Ventura design license has been downloaded more than 1,900 times in 105 countries spanning Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas and Australasia. At least 30 teams have manufactured prototypes for testing in Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Colombia, Germany, India, Iran, Peru, Pakistan, Australia and more.
Most recently, a team in Baja California, Mexico made 100 devices for local hospitals and a team of Ecuadorian researchers, based in Ecuador and abroad, are collaborating to produce the devices for coronavirus patients in their country.
Professor Tim Baker tells us more about the global impact of the project and what it was like to lead the remarkable team of UCL engineers and partners.
I worked in the motorsports industry for many years, which involves fast-paced precision manufacturing to tight deadlines. So although I’m not a medical expert, when I watched the announcement of the government’s ventilator challenge on Sunday 15 March, I was thinking to myself that creating something as complicated as a mechanical ventilator from scratch takes a long time and we needed something that could be built more efficiently. I didn’t realise that less than 48 hours later I’d be involved in creating the CPAP device. Rebecca Shipley, Director of IHE, reached out to me on Monday 16 March and the next day the project to create the CPAP took off. When I left for work that Tuesday morning, I told my wife I wasn’t sure what time I’d be home, referring to that evening, but I actually didn’t come home for four weeks because things moved so quickly. We spoke to the intensive care team at UCLH and knew we needed to create something simpler than mechanical ventilators, so that’s how the idea to reverse-engineer the CPAP was born.
Did you collaborate with colleagues in other countries in the development process?
Yes. Very early on, Mervyn Singer, Professor of Intensive Care Medicine at UCLH, talked to colleagues in Italy and China, which at that time were dealing with the highest number of COVID-19 cases, to get their perspective and find out what treatment was working. This was a disease we hadn’t come across the likes of before so we were trying to research and learn as much as we could from our associates in those countries before the first wave of infections really took off in the UK. We learned that trying to keep patients off mechanical ventilators was the most successful approach and that meant using CPAP devices, which essentially splints the lungs open to allow greater oxygen absorption.
How did the project move so quickly from development to approval and distribution?
Existing personal relationships with the likes of Mercedes AMG HPP meant when something like this happened, we could ask for their help and that foundation of trust was already there. They joined our team on Wednesday 17 March and we quietly got on with the engineering side of things. Meanwhile we gained credibility thanks to the relentless efforts of Vice-Provost (Health) David Lomas and Rebecca Shipley who put a lot of work into changing NHS guidance to include CPAP devices. We got the first devices built and in hospitals for testing in 100 hours, within 10 days we got the approval from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and very soon after that the order came from the cabinet office to manufacture to scale. We then had to secure the supply chain to build the CPAP and breathing circuits in quantity at a time when there were massive global disruptions and shortages. We spoke to companies like Intersurgical, a global supplier of medical consumables, and managed to build a convincing case for them to support us. We’re still working with them now on other COVID-related projects and that relationship will likely continue to grow for years to come.
How have you been working with international teams since freely releasing the designs for UCL-Ventura?
We’ve spent a lot of time talking to organisations that have downloaded the designs to help them manufacture the devices for themselves. Something we learned when trying to secure our own supply chain is that in times of crisis like this, countries are naturally going to prioritise their own needs so we wanted to give international teams the ability to be self-sufficient. We have lots of resources on our website, including guidance and instructions in multiple languages like Spanish and Portuguese. We’ve also been holding Q&A webinars to offer support on the engineering side, answer technical queries and offer advice on things like alternative or locally available materials they might use. We’ve also held similar webinars for international teams about clinical use of the CPAP. The MHRA has really helped support our international collaborations by helping teams deal with their own local approvals and satisfy their own regulators. I remember it feeling slightly surreal to keep getting the updates about how many people around the world were contacting us and it’s been incredible to watch the global distribution grow as much as it has.
By j.chua, on 3 June 2020
The UN is marking its 75th anniversary at a time of great disruption, so they are taking the opportunity to gather inputs from across the world on people’s priorities for the future. They are especially keen to hear from young people, teachers, researchers and professors, regardless of their disciplines.
The data gathered through the survey will be presented by the UN Secretary-General to the General Assembly at the 75th anniversary commemoration in September, and will moreover serve to inform future UN strategies and approaches through a concluding UN75 report early next year. This is therefore a unique opportunity to contribute to the future of global governance, where UCL can help shape the agenda for the future.
By j.chua, on 27 May 2020
UCL students wanting to develop their understanding of China and its role in the world can apply to study in Beijing on a fully funded Master’s scholarship at Peking University (PKU). Applications are now open for scholarships beginning in September 2021.
The Yenching Academy of PKU offers a highly customisable Master’s program in China Studies for English speakers with varied levels of Chinese language competency. At the core of the program lies its emphasis on interdisciplinarity and the value it assigns to thinking about China’s past, present and future – from both Chinese and international perspectives. It also aims to push the study of China beyond the boundaries of traditionally defined humanities and social science disciplines, and is designed to incorporate the experiences and intellectual training of its diverse student body.
Scholars are allowed ﬂexibility in the design of their study programmes and can choose courses from any of six research areas, one of which they will choose for their theses. A wide range of electives offered by the Academy and other Peking University schools and departments supplements core courses. Our interdisciplinary approach encourages dialogue across academic disciplines, and creates an environment conducive to innovative and fruitful exchanges of ideas.
Yenching Academy hosted a virtual information session on Zoom for interested UCL candidates on 26 October 2020. You can view presentation slides from the session here. To register for upcoming virtual information sessions on 16, 18, 23 and 25 November 2020, please see here.
UCL will carry out preliminary evaluation of applications submitted by their own students and alumni. Based on this assessment, they nominate students for interviews conducted by the Yenching Academy. Please note that this route is not open to Chinese nationals.
How to apply: Applications should be sent to Professor Vivienne Lo (email@example.com) in the first instance. Those nominated through UCL’s internal pre-selection process will then be directed to submit their application through the Yenching Academy admissions portal. UCL alumni may choose to apply through the admissions portal directly but will still need to contact Professor Lo to have their application approved.
Extended deadline for UCL applications: Friday 27 November 2020
More details can be found at the admissions portal link above and you can read about UCL graduate James Ashcroft’s experience on a Yenching Academy scholarship here.
By Guest Blogger, on 3 April 2020
By Ivan Ezquerra Romano, PhD student, UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience
The sun is shining and the waves are breaking on the shore. Kids are splashing sea water. The air is warm but the ice-cream you’re eating feels pleasantly cold. Now you feel too hot, so you run to the water with the sand burning beneath your toes! The experience of submerging your body in the sea water is incredibly refreshing…
How does your mind represent all these thermal sensations you experience on a summer day at the beach? The research project that I am working on will help answer this question thanks to the development of novel methods to study thermal perception.
CpP facilitates international collaboration
For my PhD, I am studying how the mind represents the perception of temperature in space and time. The UCL Cities partnerships Programme (CpP) facilitated the project that is now at the core of my PhD research. UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience Professor Patrick Haggard kickstarted the project before I joined and started working on it a year ago.
The project is a collaboration between Professor Giandomenico Iannetti’s lab and Professor Haggard’s. When I joined, Professor Iannetti had recently moved his lab to Istituto Italiano Di Tecnologia. The Guardian reported that almost 11,000 EU academics had left UK universities since the 2016 referendum, so the timing of the CpP project was perfect as the programme is key in facilitating collaborations with international academics post-Brexit.
Thanks to CpP (and way before the COVID-19 pandemic), researchers from both labs were able to visit each other several times to have fruitful discussions and brainstorm ideas. I also had the invaluable experience of working hand-in-hand with senior researcher Dr Caterina Leone from Sapienza University of Rome at such an early stage of my PhD. Other than the science, it was fun to have ramen and sushi while exploring London’s international food scene, and also ice-cream and pizza in Rome!
Luckily, our project has been awarded funding for another consecutive year.
New methods to study thermal perception
CpP has not only supported our traveling expenses, but it has allowed us to buy equipment to develop novel methods to study thermal perception in a way no one has done before. Classically, scientists studying thermal sensation use tactile thermal simulators. These are metal bars connected to a system of water pumps. This system is connected to a computer and scientists can easily control the temperature of the metal, which is measured by a thermometer.
However, we know that touch and thermal changes of the skin interact with each other to build our perception of the external world. For example, a coin that is cold feels heavier than an identical coin that is warm. When our skin is simultaneously stimulated by touch and temperature, the perception of those inputs is different than if we experience the touch or the temperature in isolation.
In our project, we are developing novel methods to study cold and warm perception without tactile input. Scientists can already warm the skin without touch by using a laser or an infrared bulb – that’s what the sun does after all! However, until now there were no means of accurately cooling the skin without touch. This project involves devising a reliable and repeatable method of doing this using dry ice. We are developing the cooling method in London and we plan to develop the warming method in Rome (when travelling and social restrictions are lifted). We will then combine them to study thermal perception in different ways.
The methods developed in this project will allow us to study temperature perception in new ways. Right now, scientists do not understand well how perception of temperature changes with tactile inputs. In particular, spatial and temporal projections are poorly understood because of the use of tactile thermal stimulators. The results of our CpP project and other experiments will allow us to develop computational models of how the brain builds thermal perception. Excitingly, these developments will inform the development of new technologies such as thermal displays for use in gaming, robotics and remote sensing devices.
By Guest Blogger, on 13 March 2020
By Brian Wong, PhD student, UCL Institute of Cardiovascular Science
Over the past few years, the presence of students and members of youth-led organisations in global health spaces has led to the meaningful and sustainable engagement of young people in global agendas. One such youth-led organisation is the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), which is one of the world’s oldest and largest student-run organisations.
IFMSA represents, connects and engages with an inspiring network of 1.3 million medical students from 136 national member organisations (NMOs) in 126 countries around the globe. IFMSA was granted consultative status by the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), meaning it is able to send members to UN meetings to participate in the UN’s work and that of its specialised agencies.
I currently sit on the board of trustees for Students for Global Health (SfGH), a global health charity and the UK NMO of IFMSA. I was fortunate to have been selected to attend the 146th Executive Board meeting of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva from 3-8 February 2020 as a delegate of IFMSA. Our delegation of 11 represented different regions and a range of experience levels. Besides medical students, the delegation also included global health advocates with backgrounds in public health, dentistry and veterinary medicine.
The WHO Executive Board (EB), which comprises 34 technical experts from member states, advises and generally facilitates the decisions and policies of the World Health Assembly (WHA). The EB has high-level meetings at least twice a year, with the main meeting in January and a shorter second meeting after the WHA in May, during which time the agenda for the forthcoming WHA is agreed upon and resolutions are adopted. Also present at the EB meeting are other member states, representatives of UN agencies and non-state actors (NSAs).
IFMSA is considered a NSA and is one of only two youth organisations in official relations with WHO; therefore, we can attend high-level meetings such as the EB meeting to advocate and deliver statements on relevant agenda points. At this year’s EB meeting in January, there were several hundred delegates in attendance, including WHO technical experts/department directors, representatives of the 34 EB members, non-EB member state representatives (including the UK and Canada this year) and NSA representatives (the category IFMSA falls under).
The IFMSA delegation delivered statements at the EB meeting and advocated for meaningful youth participation in global health. We split our advocacy efforts into four working groups:
- Universal Health Coverage (UHC)
- Communicable Diseases, including public health emergencies of international concern (PHEIC) – this took up the bulk of the meeting given the current coronavirus situation
- Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs)
- Global Health & Governance Issues
As part of the NCDs Advocacy Working Group, I wrote and advocated for policy statements that I delivered to the international community on the following agenda topics:
- EB146/7: Political declaration of the third high-level meeting of the United Nations General Assembly on the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases
- EB146/23: Development of a proposal for a Decade of Healthy Ageing 2020–2030
- EB146/24: Comprehensive implementation plan on maternal, infant and young child nutrition: biennial report
In total, our delegation delivered nine statements on the topics of primary health care, UHC, the prevention and control of NCDs, the global vaccine action plan, ending tuberculosis, health emergencies, the Decade of Healthy Ageing, the global strategy on digital health and the involvement of non-state actors at WHO.
IFMSA also actively contributed to two side events. The first was the launch of the WHO Global Health Workforce Network (GHWN) Youth Hub report on youth and decent work in the health and social care sector. The second was the NGO consultation of the Alliance for Health Promotion. In addition, we had the opportunity to attend technical briefings, one on the current coronavirus outbreak and the other on electronic nicotine delivery/vaping systems.
We also had several meetings with current youth delegates and Diah Saminarsih (WHO’s Senior Adviser on Youth and Gender to the Director-General) during which we discussed strategies to increase meaningful and sustainable youth participation in global health, as well as to further support youth delegate programs. Furthermore, we conducted consultations with member state representatives to discuss youth engagement strategies in their respective countries.
Youth organisations like IFMSA continue their advocacy efforts tirelessly throughout the year. Although the 146th Executive Board meeting is now over, work towards a successful 73rd World Health Assembly has only just begun. We plan to continue our work with WHO and the youth delegates over the coming months to strengthen meaningful and diverse youth engagement in global health.
For the latest news about UCL’s international activity, partnerships and opportunities, subscribe to our bimonthly Global Update newsletter.
By j.chua, on 5 March 2020
Daniyal Jafree (centre) is a MB/PhD student in UCL’s Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, combining a clinical MBBS degree with a PhD in the basic sciences. His research focuses on the development of lymphatic vessels in the kidney and in July 2019, he had the opportunity to delve deeper into his investigation by collaborating with researchers at the University of Toronto (U of T) to find out more about how these vessels are made.
Through UCL’s Bogue Fellowship scheme, which supports research visits to laboratories in the United States and Canada, Daniyal travelled to SickKids Hospital in Toronto, one of Canada’s most research-intensive children’s hospitals and an affiliate of U of T. Daniyal spent nine weeks at the hospital’s academic research institute, the Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning (PGCRL), where he completed his research, re-planned the remainder of his PhD, and formed lasting connections with the team he met there.
Q: Can you briefly describe what your research was about?
My research is all about understanding lymphatic vessels in the kidney. Lymphatic vessels act like a waste disposal system and remove debris, excess fluid and cells from almost every organ. Heart attacks, cancer and dementia are all examples of diseases that feature faulty lymphatic vessels, highlighting the importance of this waste disposal system for healthy life. But how do lymphatic vessels first grow in the kidney, an organ that itself acts as a waste disposal system for our body? This question was partly answered by my PhD research, as we used three-dimensional imaging techniques to show exactly how lymphatic vessels first appear and form in the kidney. My research in Toronto was about taking our work to the next level, by understanding where the actual building blocks (the cells) that form the kidneys’ waste disposal system come from. This kind of information is important because targeting lymphatic vessels might lead to a completely new way of tackling kidney diseases.
Q: How did you hear about the Bogue Fellowship and what made you want to apply?
My Bogue Fellowship came to be by complete coincidence. I’ve always wanted to travel around and experience research in another academic environment. I’d also heard a lot about the amazing calibre of research at SickKids Hospital and how U of T and UCL have a really well-established partnership. At a conference in the UK, my supervisor Dr David Long and I were discussing my ideas with Professor Norman Rosenblum, an internationally renowned expert in kidney development and disease. He took an interest in our work and kindly suggested I visit his laboratory in Toronto where, coincidentally, he had all the tools and techniques I needed for my research. I was mind-blown to find that he was a clinician and scientist at SickKids Hospital; I’d heard about the exciting things they do there. I then looked up what UCL had on offer to support my visit to SickKids and the Bogue Fellowship came up—everything seemed to be falling into place!
Q: What unique research opportunities did you have at SickKids?
My research needed an advanced genetic engineering technique that enables scientists to ‘tag’ stem cells to see where they end up and how. The specific tools to carry out this technique, which I required to assess how kidney lymphatics form, weren’t available in London, nor anywhere else in the UK or Europe! However, SickKids had all of the things I needed. All in one place.
Q: How did collaborating with an international team benefit your work?
In the nine weeks I spent at SickKids I completed my research and found what I was looking for, with a lot of help from members of Professor Rosenblum’s laboratory. These individuals are amongst the brightest and best I’ve met in investigating kidney development and genetic diseases that affect the kidney. Watching their way of working, their rigour and the level of science they were performing had a huge impact on me and my work—particularly the way they used genetic engineering to solve the most complicated of problems. Learning from them whilst out there led to me completely rewriting most of my plans for the remaining two years of my PhD!
Q: What were the highlights from your time in Toronto?
On a personal level: I have lots of family in Canada. The Bogue Fellowship is very generous and encourages travelling around the US or Canada to experience the culture. So, I spent a lot of time with my family in Toronto and even flew out to Vancouver to visit more family there. It made me realise how beautiful a country Canada is; I definitely see myself living out there in the future.
On a professional level: It was a huge accomplishment to complete my project in such a short time. It was very ambitious for nine weeks, so much so that the Bogue Fellowship committee recommended I stay out there longer! However, mostly because of personal commitments, I was insistent on keeping it to nine weeks. Thanks particularly to the lab’s Research Project Manager Christopher Rowan and Professor Rosenblum’s MD/PhD student Rob d’Cruz, we were able to squeeze all of our experiments into nine weeks. Actually, what we found was quite profound. We found that some of the cells that form kidney lymphatic vessels come from the most unexpected of places; this finding could affect the way scientists think about how lymphatic vessels grow in different organs. It also raises the question of whether lymphatics that form from different cells have different impacts on disease.
Q: How have the connections you made in Toronto and the research you did there made a lasting impact on your career?
In addition to bringing back to UCL the ideas and suggestions related to my work on kidney lymphatics, Professor Rosenblum and Dr Long have now forged a long-term collaboration. They are now co-supervising an extremely talented PhD student at UCL who is investigating a molecule that may have great therapeutic benefit on polycystic kidney disease, the most common genetic cause of kidney failure. Aside from the science, Professor Rosenblum gave me invaluable insights into how to forge a career path at the interface of clinical medicine and laboratory science. One day I hope to run a laboratory of my own alongside clinical work, and I have a feeling Professor Rosenblum’s advice will come in very handy. The only thing I am unsure about is whether to pursue these ambitions in the UK, Canada or somewhere completely different—time will tell!
Q: What advice do you have for students considering taking advantage of UCL’s global partnerships?
My advice is short and very simple—put yourself out there, look for the right opportunities and take your chances at applying for schemes like the Bogue Fellowship. The collaboration between UCL and U of T represents a unique link between two of the most academically-strong research centres in the world. Who knows? A trip to U of T from UCL, or vice versa, might completely change your mind set for the better. It definitely did mine.
For the latest news about UCL’s international activity, partnerships and opportunities, subscribe to our bimonthly Global Update newsletter.
By Sophie Vinter, on 24 January 2020
UCL articles have a phenomenal global reach – that’s the upshot of new statistics released by The Conversation, which show the countries in which UCL articles are most widely-read, as well as the number of readers.
As the data above shows, in 2019 well over a million and a half UCL articles in The Conversation were read by US-based readers, followed by over half a million article views in the U.K. and Australia. We also have an impressive spread of readers around the globe, from our European neighbours to Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.
Top articles by UCL academics from 2019-20 include Mark Maslin’s ‘Five climate change science misconceptions – debunked’, which looks at the truth behind beliefs including ‘climate change is just part of the natural cycle’ and ‘changes are due to sunspots/galactic cosmic rays’.
Mark Maslin is the Professor of Climatology at UCL, and this article got over 220,000 views after it was published in September 2019.
Professor Maslin’s article ‘The five corrupt pillars of climate change denial‘ was the second most-read UCL article at The Conversation between 2019-20, after it came out in November 2019.
With just under 200,000 views, this article takes an in-depth look at climate lobbying, and how the fossil fuel industry, political lobbyists and media moguls have spent the past 30 years sowing doubts about the reality of climate change.
Another highly popular article from UCL academics in The Conversation is ‘We accidentally created a new wonder material that could revolutionise batteries and electronics’, written by Chris Howard, Associate Professor in Materials Physics at UCL, and Mitch Watts, a PhD student at UCL.
Looking at the unexpected creation of how phosphorene nanoribbons at UCL, this article garnered 167,000 views after it was published in April 2019.
Climate change was by far the most popular subject for UCL articles in The Conversation between 2019-20, with one article, ‘4°C of global warming is optimal – even Nobel Prize winners are getting things catastrophically wrong‘ by Steve Keen, honorary Professor of Economics at UCL, attracting a global readership of just under 95,000.
By Sophie Vinter, on 22 January 2020
Deenan Pillay, Professor of Virology at UCL Division of Infection and Immunity, is preparing to begin his three-year term as UCL Pro-Vice-Provost International (PVPI), succeeding Professor Dame Hazel Genn.
The PVPI provides engaging, inspirational and strategic academic leadership for UCL’s networks of Regional Pro-Vice-Provosts and Vice-Deans International.
Until recently, Deenan was also seconded from UCL as Director of the Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI), where he focused on clinical, population and laboratory-based studies to limit the spread of HIV.
Please can you give us a brief overview of what the Africa Health Research Institute does?
AHRI is a 600-strong research institute in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa focusing on HIV, TB and related diseases. One of its key characteristics is its work across disciplines from heath systems and behaviour through to molecular biology. It has two campuses, one in rural northern KZN based around a population surveillance infrastructure, and another laboratory base 3 hours drive south, at the Nelson Mandela School of Medicine in Durban. The major funding stream is from the Wellcome Trust, as one of the WT Africa and Asia Programmes, which is more than doubled through external grant income, leading to a total annual research budget of around 15 million pounds.
How did your own research interests align with AHRI?
My interest in HIV started in 1988, when I started my clinical specialisation in Virology. HIV had recently been identified as the cause of AIDS, and there was immense pressure to develop antiretroviral drugs. I undertook a Fellowship in 1993 to study how the virus becomes resistant to these drugs. Despite this major limitation of the early generation of therapy, I was fortunate to witness firsthand, during the 1990s and 2000s, the translational pathway from early compound screening, through development, to trials and implementation – with a profound impact in changing a death sentence to a chronic disease management paradigm. However, whilst this model of drug development may work in the resource-rich world, it is an inadequate global response. My move to South Africa some 30 years later was a reflection of this inequality, and the challenges provided by trying to implement interventions in a setting of 30% prevalence of infection and with limited resource. My research had by now extended to HIV transmission, and I am proud of the work we undertook to understand how best to reduce new infections at scale. I am pleased that the most recent AHRI data shows a reduction in new infections in rural KZN.
What were the challenges of being Director of AHRI?
There were two main challenges. Firstly, AHRI represents a merger of two research organisations, differing in geography, culture, research disciplines, and ethos, despite both having a focus on HIV and TB research. AHRI was formed in 2016, and so the development of a single mission remains an ongoing process. Secondly, and relatedly, is the development of cross-disciplinary research towards our goals of reducing HIV and TB morbidity and mortality. Much is written about how the major solutions to global problems will require cross-disciplinary approaches – this is more difficult in practice!
How is UCL engaged in AHRI?
AHRI is an independent research institute, with a board to which the Director is accountable. UCL has a seat on that board, and is an important stakeholder. Indeed, the Wellcome Trust grant to AHRI is via UCL, and therefore UCL is held responsible by the WT for overall academic performance and governance. UCL also employs the Director and a number of other Faculty members. Having said that, there are other stakeholders, including the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and a strong push for AHRI to be a truly South African research institute, and growing local capacity. In keeping with the UCL ethos of global engagement, future collaboration will be far more likely based around researchers being based full-time at AHRI, than the old colonial model of samples and data flowing from South Africa for analysis in London! I would encourage UCL staff and students interested in working with AHRI to speak to the new Director, Professor Willem Hanekom.
You’ve recently been appointed as Pro-Vice-Provost (International) at UCL’s Global Engagement Office. What are you most looking forward to about this role?
UCL has an increasingly important global role. Firstly, to create students who are comfortable as global citizens. And secondly to bring expertise to bear on the key issues of global importance. I am looking forward to contributing to the vision of ‘London’s Global University’, and getting a better sense of the huge wealth of impactful research and teaching across our campuses.
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