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Three ways institutions can support research partnerships

Guest Blogger4 November 2021

By Sam Mardell, UCL Strategic Partnership Manager (AHRI); Amit Khandelwal, UCL Senior Partnership Manager (South Asia); and Monica Lakhanpaul, UCL Pro-Vice-Provost (South Asia)

Human chain paper stock imageThe increasing globalisation of people and economies, the devastating impact of COVID-19 on societies across the world, the multifaceted problems caused by climate change and the ongoing global commitments to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) make this a crucial time to generate discussion on strengthening partnerships underpinned by first-class research.

Some of the highest profile scientific and research achievements have been accomplished through partnerships between UK universities and other institutions worldwide. The UCL Ventura-CPAP breathing aid and the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine are just two recent high-profile examples of what can be achieved through collaboration of this kind.

Yet, these partnerships are the exception — generated at a time of crisis — rather than the rule. We undertake partnerships, with all the additional effort and time that these involve, because they generate better outputs and outcomes. How can we create an environment in our institution where collaborations are encouraged and can flourish?

A successful research collaboration harnesses the strengths of each partner for greater impact. For example, academics can provide the evidence base for decision-making, but without industry partners to take ideas through to production, or the involvement of the third sector to ensure that solutions really meet societal needs, then good ideas remain just that — ideas.

For the purposes of this discussion, we define a positive partnership as one that achieves the explicitly stated goals of the research, while allowing all partners to learn and advance throughout the period of collaboration and beyond.

Research partnerships invariably work because of interpersonal relations. There is a great deal of literature on how to nurture these partnerships; frequently these are based simply on two individual academics who get along with one another.

Institutions do also play a role in generating an environment that supports and values academic collaborations. Here we outline the three key areas of institutional support to the creation and successful implementation of research partnerships.

1. Train academics in partnership building:

Academics are experts in their field — but that does not automatically generate the soft skills or knowledge needed to create a successful collaboration. There has been much discussion over the past few years about the need to recognise systemic and structural power inequalities and ensure that they do not feature in research relationships. Assume that you will provide the skills without learning from your collaborators, and you both miss the additional benefits collaboration can bring and belittle your partners’ contribution to the success of the project.

Institutions can provide a basic understanding of the dynamics and sensitivities that might influence how collaborators view the UK through provision of a basic history of the country and any historical inter-country linkages. This is particularly relevant when working with partners in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), where unequal and lop-sided benefits frequently advantage the more powerful partners in a collaboration.

Signposting on how to navigate working intercultural collaborations can support academics in developing contacts who can advise on cultural sensitivities and expected behaviours. This can be immensely helpful in developing early relationships. Awareness that different cultures will approach a problem in a distinct way is essential, with differences in approach often generating better outcomes. This is equally valid for collaborations across the public-private-people-policy sectors and between larger and small universities as it is for national-international collaborations.

University policy can help to avoid the obviously exploitative activities — such as using in-country staff only for fieldwork, denying shared authorship opportunities, or ethics dumping — that characterised the relationship of a fair proportion of academics from the richer nations working in low-resource settings in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

For a truly positive partnership, thought should be given to addressing how academic partners ensure that local or traditional knowledge and expertise is a recognised, valued and rewarded part of collaboration. Good partnerships also have leaders with a suite of skills additional to their individual scientific expertise; this requires training on working collaboratively to help ensure partnerships work well and generate innovative and impactful results.

2. Provide resources to nurture nascent partnerships

Open communication is one element of a partnership that has been radically reconstituted and reformed over the past year during the COVID-19 pandemic, with Zoom and Teams calls now the norm. Whilst academics have been denied the opportunity to hold face-to-face conversations with partners overseas over the past year, virtual communication has put overseas partners on an equal footing with local colleagues. The provision of small travel grants and seed corn funding — such as those provided by UCL’s Global Engagement and Grand Challenges funds — can facilitate the initial conversations needed to begin building the trust and mutual respect that are so vital to positive partnerships.

3. Create an enabling institutional environment

Longer-term collaborations, which span multiple projects and years, require time, patience and understanding of the priorities and constraints of another organisation or individual. Copious amount of coffee, tea and food — sprinkled with an appreciation of another culture and sharing personal experiences — are the building blocks of relationships. Yet the current academic system generates rewards for being a Principal Investigator: for individuality and being first author or lead institution. Institutional recognition of the time investment needed to develop partnerships — listening to partners, respecting their challenges, and understanding the context within which they are working — is needed when assessing academics’ achievements at appraisals or promotion boards. This requires a shift from a quantitative review of academic achievement based on impact factors and grant income to one that recognises that nurturing partnerships can pay dividends in co-creating and delivering appropriate solutions and enhanced positive impact.

Partnerships are all about relationships: equitability, having a flexible mind-set and trust. If you get this right, you have the key ingredients to ensure that your project or activity will be a successful and impactful one.

But partnerships also require institutional incentives and structures that do not penalise academics for collaborative activity. Harnessing a variety of intellect and expertise, innovation and skills focussed on clearly defined goals can ensure that, through the power of partnerships, research generates positive outcomes and impact for all involved.


About the authors

If you would like to know more about developing partnerships and how we can help you, please contact us:

Sam Mardell is the Strategic Partnership Manager for UCL’s relationship with the Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI), South Africa. She also co-Chairs the UCL LMIC Research Operations Group.

Professor Monica Lakhanpaul is Professor of Integrated Community Child Health at the UCL GOS Institute of Child Health and Pro Vice Provost for South Asia. Her research promotes citizen science using structured and participatory methods to co-design interventions for the advancement of population science.

Dr Amit Khandelwal is Senior Partnership Manager (South Asia) within the Office of the UCL Vice-Provost (Research, Innovation & Global Engagement).

This piece was originally posted on the UCL Disruptive Voices blog

UCL Pro-Vice-Provost (International) Professor Deenan Pillay on remaining focused on research impact

Guest Blogger21 September 2021

Deenan PillayThe world is burning – literally – and climate change has led to an increase in weather unpredictability. Meanwhile, the world is reeling from its latest pandemic, almost certainly caused by live animal trading, and the hugely beneficial impact of new COVID vaccines has been tempered by gross global inequity in access, leaving us all still at risk. And then there is the gross failure of international political governance to secure a peaceful outcome for the people of Afghanistan. This all comes on top of a distinct move to inward-looking and nationalist feelings here in the UK, and other parts of the world, which saw significant cuts to UK overseas development aid, including research funding.

It is easy to feel despondent and powerless to respond in a constructive manner.

However, despite these challenges, universities have an opportunity to make a change in their global impact and collaboratively contribute solutions to these critical challenges for the future. We at UCL are in a particularly strong position. We host an amazing and broad spectrum of research activities, and a truly international student and staff body. We also work within a longstanding UCL ethos of tolerance, inclusivity and a commitment to equity.

And there are many wonderful examples of how UCL and our partners contribute to global good, ranging from the Institute for Global Prosperity’s co-creation of sustainable energy provision with communities in Lebanon, through to the Institute of Healthcare Engineering releasing full design and manufacturing instructions, on a zero-cost license, for the local production of UCL-Ventura CPAP ventilators around the world.

Nevertheless, translating our academic strengths into global impact does not happen by accident. We need to continue to build an infrastructure, and incentives, to encourage more cross disciplinary (or rather, transdisciplinary) research, and support our staff to build their nascent or early-stage international partnerships into something capable of delivering benefit to peoples around the world. Equally, our students will not automatically become global citizens, despite our strapline of “London’s Global University” – there is a need to continue to proactively enhance their international experience at UCL. Our recent success in applying to the Turing Scheme – as replacement of the Erasmus programme – is excellent news.

How are we supporting the UCL community to achieve this? Firstly, we recently brought our Global Engagement team within the portfolio of the newly formed Office of the UCL Vice-Provost for Research, Innovation and Global Engagement (RIGE). This will help us to broaden and better coordinate the support we can provide to academics across the university, particularly with the emerging UCL institutional strategy and priorities for research, innovation, education and external engagement.

Secondly, by building on UCL’s existing strong international links and successes from the last five years – including global institutional partnerships with academic institutions and other organisations around the world – we aim to ensure the work of Global Engagement will be even more strongly guided by academic staff and their faculties’ priorities. We are delighted to work closely with UCL’s Vice-Deans (International) to ensure this alignment can maximise our research and education impact globally.

And thirdly, we aim to ensure that our global perspective and the support Global Engagement provides will be better integrated into new cross-institution initiatives such as those targeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, the climate emergency, and equity and inclusion. We also want to continue supporting global opportunities for students, enhance our support with faculties for PhD and early- and mid-career researchers, and ensure seamless and better coordinated internal funding processes. This includes building on the highly successful Beyond Boundaries conference we held with UCL Grand Challenges in late 2020.

Most importantly, whatever your role and position at UCL, I invite you to let us know of your own plans and aspirations for creating global impact. It is important to share our activities across the institution and beyond, and it helps us in the UCL Global Engagement team to continue to adapt our activities to support you in achieving the global impact we all wish for.

Overseas Research at UCL – Routes to Impact

j.chua17 June 2021

5-minute Survey to complete, deadline 31 July 2021

UCL would like to increase the support available for its research community wishing to engage or who are already undertaking research internationally. To do this in a meaningful way, OVPRIGE, in collaboration with VPHealth, wants to hear your views on what resources or in-house training you need to achieve impact creation from research in international settings. Please take five minutes to answer a few questions via our online form. Then, over the summer we’ll analyse the results, turn them in to an action plan so we can provide a tailored programme for the UCL community.

Survey link

Ask an Academic: Tim Baker on the UCL-Ventura breathing aid

j.chua15 September 2020

Tim Baker working on the UCL-Ventura breathing aidAt 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.

[See here for an interactive map of international distribution]

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.

Tim Baker headshotHow did you get involved in the UCL-Ventura project?

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.

Apply for a 2021 Yenching Academy Scholarship

j.chua27 May 2020

yenching academy of peking universityUCL 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.

Application process

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 (v.lo@ucl.ac.uk) 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.

Developing New Methods to Study Thermal Perception

Guest Blogger3 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.

Using a syringe containing dry ice and a CO2 laser

Dr Caterina Leone and I brainstorming ideas with a syringe containing dry ice and a CO2 laser.

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.

dry ice

Dry ice composed of CO2. Here it is at roughly -70C. At room temperature, it goes from solid to gas (sublimation).

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.

Scientific impact

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.

 

Youth Engagement at 146th Executive Board Meeting of the World Health Organization

Guest Blogger13 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.

[Find out more about getting involved with SfGH UCL, a local branch of Students for Global Health UK]

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.

Global readership of UCL articles in The Conversation

Sophie Vinter24 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.

UCL articles read in The Conversation, 2019-20, No.1-10

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 30 countries, 11-20

Top 30 Countries, no.21-30

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.

 

 

 

Ask an Academic: Deenan Pillay

Sophie Vinter22 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.

Find out more:

Global Engagement Office

Africa Health Research Institute

Exhibition: UCL IOE Confucius Institute Young Photographers’ Competition

Guest Blogger21 January 2020

By Yasmin Lambert

The winning entries from this year’s UCL IOE Confucius Institute Young Photographers’ Competition will soon be available to view during upcoming exhibitions at UCL.

The Young Photographers’ Competition is open to people aged 18 years and under, run by the UCL IOE Confucius Institute for Schools (IOE CI) and supported by the Chinese Embassy.

Its aims are to dispel the cultural stereotypes of China through photography, to show the country through the eyes of young people, and to encourage young people to explore their relationship with China and Chinese culture.

The IOE CI offers support to UK schools so they can both teach Mandarin Chinese and learn about China. It also oversees international school partnerships, supports curriculum development, develops teaching resources, undertakes research, runs annual student camps to China and works with awarding bodies on accreditation.

In 2019, the competition featured five China-related categories that could be interpreted in different ways. Four of the five categories included photographs that had been taken in China and the fifth category was for photos with a Chinese theme that had been taken in the UK:

  • China in colour (Portfolio)
  • China and her food
  • China at home (UK-based)
  • The people of China
  • Young China (Under 14)

The majority of entries came from school students in the UK and feature photographs that the students had taken on school trips or holidays to China. As ever, entries were of a very high standard and it was fascinating to see how the students had interpreted the category titles.

After much deliberation, the judging panel shortlisted four entries for each category (1st, 2nd, 3rd and Highly Commended), and the winners were announced just before the Christmas break.

To celebrate the amazing quality of the photographs and the success of the competition,  all 36 of the winning entries will be on display – first at the Chinese Embassy on 24 January to celebrate Chinese New Year – and then open to the public at UCL.

3–21 February 2020

  • UCL North Cloisters, Wilkins Building, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT
  • 10:00-18:00 Monday – Sunday
  • Cost: Free

1-22 May 2020

  • UCL South Cloisters, Wilkins Building, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT
  • 10:00-18:00 Monday – Sunday
  • Cost: Free

China in colour (Portfolio)

Amrit Chahil, Age = 13

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

China and her food

Henry Yue, Age = 16

 

 

 

 

 

China at home (UK-based)

Sofia Millington Gomez, Age = 12

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The people of China

Becky Gillan, Age = 17

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Young China (Under 14)

Julian Castro, Age = 14