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Ask an Academic: Professor Sue Hamilton, Director of the UCL Institute of Archaeology

Sian EGardiner30 May 2019

Professor Sue Hamilton is Professor of Prehistory and since 2014 has been Director of the UCL Institute of Archaeology.

Sue is Principal Investigator of the Rapa Nui (Easter Island) Landscapes of Construction Project (LOC), which has been substantially funded over the past decade by the British Academy and the Arts and Humanities Research Council. 

It has been undertaken in collaboration with UK Universities of Bournemouth (co-investigator), Manchester (co-investigator), Cambridge and Highlands and Islands, together with representatives of the Chilean Council of Monuments, MAPSE (the island’s museum) and the indigenous peoples communities of Rapa Nui.

Sue and her team were the first British archaeologists to work on the island since 1914, when the English archaeologist and anthropologist, Katherine Routledge carried out the first true survey of the island.

We spoke to Sue to find out more about her unique partnership with the local indigenous community of Easter Island, and how she navigates the relationship with both the local community and the Chilean government while conducting her research.

What is the project about?

The project studies the sites and artefacts of the Easter Island statue building period (AD 1200-1550) as an interconnected, integrated whole, on a landscape scale. It has involved excavation, mapping of monuments, assessment of threats to preservation and studies of the island’s ancient and present environment.

What’s it like to work on Easter Island?

It’s a remote place, being a tiny Pacific island some 5000 km from the nearest mainland of Chile and 2,500 km from the nearest island, Pit Cairn. The local indigenous community is highly politicised, so all sorts of major internal events continually happen. If you have just a few months away it’s likely there will be completely different ground rules when you get back.

I have been formally working on Rapa Nui (which is the local name) since 2009. Much of the island is covered in prehistoric remains and is a UNESCO designated World Heritage Landscape.  In 2017, the Chilean government and National Parks Authority signed over the management of the National Park to the local indigenous community, Ma’u Henua and in 2018 we signed an agreement with the community that ‘LOC’ would advise them on archaeological issues in the park. By the time we got back in January 2019, there were several new people involved in discussing what LOC might work on and the methods to be used. Alongside this, there were new island tensions and new agreements of access to land and methodologies of documentation. Such negotiations to undertake work and its precise format can only be resolved by face to face meetings on each occasion of return to undertake fieldwork. It’s very much based on people trusting you; being able to talk to different individuals, and importantly giving people your time.

How does this partnership differ from others you might have, say with the local community in Camden?

There’s a lot of delicacy that comes with global partnerships. There are all sorts of tiny nuances. Easter Island is famed for its colossal statues and these prompt high profile discussions of the apparent collapse of the society that produced them and of the threats to the conservation of the island and its archaeology in the present; and any work on issues of its heritage always hits the newspapers – even the tiniest thing. Today the local community do at last have a very powerful gift in their hands in managing their heritage, and equally they have had a very embittered history of enormous threats to the survival of their society and traditions, which must be touched upon with empathy and sensitivity.

From the time the island was discovered by Europeans in the 18th century the local community had all sorts of terrible things happen to it, in no small part because of European contact brought disease, and ultimately loss of access to their lands. Katherine Routledge in 1914 recorded just 250 islanders compared with a population of maybe 6,000 during the statue building period. With the increasing return of land by the Chilean government in the late 20th century, and the current role of Ma’u Henua the islanders are significantly economically empowered because they have a heritage that tourists pay a heavy Park admissions fee to see.

There are currently about 6,000 islanders and 75,000 tourists go there every year. But this means that there are things that we might think are best for Rapa Nui’s extraordinary archaeology that might not be so good for tourism. We need to take things slowly and take care in giving opinions as  ‘privileged academics’, and not for example just leap in with a comment because someone says that’ll make a great quote in a national or international newspaper.

You have to remember it’s not your past, it’s their past, and I think it’s particularly so on Rapa Nui because it’s living heritage – the statues and associated monuments still have an active meaning to the Rapanui; they are not ruins of a now dead past. So a living heritage is something you can’t dabble with and think it won’t affect people.

How did you first come to work on the island?

I was working in Italy and invited my colleague, Colin Richards who worked on similar sites in the UK to come out and see the Italian ones. He spent rather a lot of time on the beach rather than working! So I went down to the beach one day and he was reading Thor Heyerdahl’s Aku-Aku, which is a 1950s popular book about Easter Island. Colin said we ought to go visit Easter Island and when we did we were just stunned by the archaeology and its great potential for new work. It was a great leap for both of us but we ended up co-directing our AHRC funded LOC project. It’s the most amazing archaeology I’ve ever worked on.

How closely are you now working with the Island’s local community?

We are currently doing research into the impact of soil erosion on the island’s archaeology and have been working on the massive ceremonial monuments by the sea and recording the extent to which many are near collapse. Conservation-related work is a good way to be working with the local community and stakeholders, and trying to do something that they want. For instance, they will put their effort into sites that tourists would particularly want to go and see, because that makes current economic sense. For us, this concurrently generates research information about the range and distributions of different categories of archaeological site. There are however numerous archaeologically very important sites beyond the tourist trail that may be key for better understanding Rapanui’s past and we have to find a pathway between both considerations.

Currently, most media people contact me about Easter Island to ask about climate change and rising sea levels and threats to the statues and their associated ceremonial monuments which wrap the island’s coastline. In many cases it’s not actually the sea that’s the most significant problem; it’s mismanagement of the landscape in modern times and the erosional impact of increased rainfall. Huge surfaces of the island are losing their soil. There are about 1,000 statues – which people don’t realise, and a lot of them at the main site where they were quarried are buried so there might be around 3,000. They are variously deteriorating due to lichen growth and the effects of atmospheric salt which penetrates the whole island environment.

Residential fieldwork uniquely creates local friendships; we stay with a local family business for a month each year, and the family have become special friends and are very supportive.  A few years ago I obtained a bursary  for a Rapanui archaeology student, Fran Pakomi, to come over to the UK and she was  trained on our UCL fieldwork course and stayed in my house. It’s these types of visits and exchanges that maintain and solidify connections and trust with distant local communities because they are at the cross-over between work and friendships.

What’s been your best archaeological discovery over there?

I suppose that one of the most dramatic is something that people knew a little bit about, but which we’ve documented and rediscovered many more of, are the carved  giant pairs of eyes on the walls of  the statue quarry. I always remember reading that in the Marquesas they believed rock to be living and that when rock was taken for monument building, the rock regrew again. We’ve found eyes that you can no longer see by using photogrammetry .

The other one’s a bit more esoteric – it’s just how interconnected things are and how many little stones were moved and how in being impressed by the physically big (such as enormous statues) you can lose the insights provided by small scale things. The builders of the statue period took giant flat cobbles from the beach and must have moved millions of them inland to make pavements and terraces outside of the houses they built. On land, large screes of volcanic rubble were move to create rock mulch, to protect the soil. The kind of human chains involved in moving millions of stones hand-to-hand from seashore inland and redistributing the volcanic rubble is quite incredible.

In the 20th century, the local community was provided with Chilean social housing, which is now seen by many as something to be rejected and demolished. We are now studying this housing and how interestingly a lot actually incorporates aspects of ancient traditions. Now on Rapa Nui there is beginning of building a sort of Polynesia of the modern imagination and an aligned very inventive local architecture that incorporates what they and potentially tourists may think Polynesia is. It’s fascinating to live through these changes as a regular visitor and it gives and insights into local priorities.

Fieldwork in distant places, and living with a local community over numerous years, accretes to make the dynamics of ancestry and heritage recording and isolating conservation and preservation priorities a mixture of diplomacy, empathy and co-production of research to secure the futures of a living past.

UCL international student recruitment: Connecting closer to home

GuestBlogger16 May 2019

In this guest blog, UCL’s International Student Recruitment team explain the ways in which they connect with international students already studying here in the UK.

When considering UCL’s international engagement, it is all too easy to overlook the UK and assume that recruitment activity here is aimed solely at UK secondary school students.

But as we all know, education is one of the UK’s global strengths and international students come for all levels of study, not just university degrees. Having already made the choice to come to the UK, such students are more likely to remain here to pursue the next stage of their education, especially those who are here at school.

Feeder institution 

We meet international students at all sorts of events across the country such as recruitment fairs, roadshows and school visits. But we do not need to go far to encounter students who are interested in what UCL can offer them – students are enrolled with us already. The UCL Centre for Languages & Education (CLIE) offers Undergraduate Preparatory Certificates, which are foundation courses for high-achieving students from countries whose qualifications do not meet our direct entry requirements.

On average around half of these students remain at UCL (and typically a further 30% go on to other leading Russell Group universities), and departments are encouraged to liaise with UCL CLIE to connect with these students at an early stage.

Many students will move on to other institutions for their graduate study, but growing numbers choose to stay with us: We are our own largest feeder institution at graduate level. A Graduate Open Day now takes place every December, and other events are held later in the academic year such as information evenings organised by departments and faculties. Drop-in sessions run during the summer term which cater exclusively to UCL students wherever they are from, who are still weighing up their options and looking beyond their final year.

Open Days

There is a wide outreach programme for prospective undergraduates, and students are able to interact with UCL representatives at events across the UK. However, nothing beats the opportunity to experience UCL directly, and right now organisation is in full swing for this year’s undergraduate Open Days. On Friday 29 and Saturday 30 June and Saturday 8 September, the campus will be taken over by up to 6,500 visitors, all wanting to find out more about what UCL offers.

We welcome students from all over the world to our open days including students based in the EU and overseas. International students will be well represented and not just those who are already studying in the UK. The timing of the events coincides with the summer holidays for many schools overseas, and students from all over the world take advantage of the opportunity to explore all aspects of UCL, from the academic to the social. Current students from many different countries work as ambassadors at the event, sharing their advice and experience.

Increase in campus tours 

Not everyone can visit at this time, especially those students who live overseas, so the number of campus tours throughout the year has been increased to give more prospective international students the chance to see and experience us for themselves.

Linking with international students who are already in the UK will continue to be an important element of our recruitment strategy. Making sure that we are open for business on campus so that we build on an existing interest in the UK and turn it into a desire to come – or stay – at UCL remains a high priority.

If you would like more information on the Open Days please contact: Hayley Simpson (Graduate) and Sandra Baerens (Undergraduate)

UCL Medical students: How our new app could transform global healthcare services

GuestBlogger20 February 2019

By Abdulkadir Elmi, Abdel Mahmoud and Yasmin Abedin

Student founders of Beba with UCL provostThrough research into global health during our Medicine degree at UCL, we were constantly faced with shocking statistics. For example, did you know that at least 50% of the world’s population do not have access to essential health services? Yet, there are more mobile phones than people in this world.

So, we asked ourselves, if most of the world’s population has access to SMS technology, can we leverage this to deliver a simple and accessible service?

So we built Beba.

The concept is simple: Beba leverages SMS technology to provide digital healthcare, beyond the hospital, to mothers and children in resource-poor settings.

Extending the reach of healthcare

Using natural language processing via an intuitive chat interface, Beba extends the reach of essential healthcare by using software to enable clinicians to ‘on-board’ mothers during their first antenatal care visit.

Once mothers are signed up, they can use our service to address their various healthcare needs. For example, mothers can retrieve their healthcare records, request or change appointments and receive tailored health advice via SMS.

Identifying red flags

Beba will also send vaccination reminders and milestone checks for her baby. Should red flag symptoms be identified, appointment booking suggestions are sent to mothers to enable immediate contact with the relevant healthcare provider.

Quality of care increases while the burden of work for clinicians decreases.

Research has shown that SMS reminders help increase the rate of medication adherence (Montes et al., 2012), non-medication treatment adherence (Balato et al., 2013), and vaccination coverage (Stockwell et al., 2014). As proposed in the ‘transtheoretical model of behaviour change’, these reminders can serve as cues to help facilitate behaviour change and improve health outcomes (Prochaska et al., 1994).

We were extremely honoured to present our company at UCL’s annual ‘Celebrating Global Engagement’ event, welcoming kind words from various senior UCL staff members including our very own Provost and President, Michael Arthur.

Improving health of newborns and mothers 

Our solution has many benefits to society. We work to strengthen existing healthcare infrastructure and improve the health of both newborns and mothers alike. Through our vaccination reminders, Beba improves the health of a society. Vaccines are essential in reducing and maintaining a low burden of communicable diseases. Prevention of diseases is key and has financial benefits: for every $1 invested in child health, the state recoups $13 over their lifetime.

The most exciting news is that we have partnered up with the charity Maternal Aid Association (Maa), and will be launching our service this summer in Bangladesh. We believe this is just the beginning of our journey in transforming healthcare for mothers and children across the globe.

Visit the Beba website 

Ask an academic: Dr Jennie Golding

Sian EGardiner28 January 2019

Dr Jennie Golding is a lecturer in Mathematics Education at the UCL Institute of Education (IOE). Her research focuses in particular on teacher development for policy change in both the UK and a variety of second and third world contexts.

Jennie regularly works with teachers, policy makers and teacher educators in developing countries to support the growth of evidence-based, effective maths education. We spoke to her to find out more about her recent work in East Africa, supported by a UCL Global Engagement Fund (GEF) grant.

You started out as a mathematician and moved into teaching – what interested you in education?

I had enjoyed working with three-18 year olds on a voluntary basis – and I think enjoying being with young people is really important. Then I began to analyse the different functions my teachers at school and university had played, and to appreciate the difference a good teacher makes to clarity and enjoyment of the subject I love.

The rest is history – except that after a long career classroom-based, but working in teacher development alongside that, in this country and the developing world, I felt I wanted to capitalise on that by moving into HE.

You were among recent recipients of UCL’s Global Engagement Funds (GEF). What led you to apply for the funds?

I have a passionate belief in the power of education to transform individuals and society – and in equitable access to that. In particular, young people can’t access 21st century science and technology without knowing mathematics in a meaningful way – and yet, many developing countries have an education tradition that majors on rote learning, and teacher as authoritarian and source of all knowledge.

The initial GEF funding enabled me to engage with, and visit, a range of teachers in Tanzania so I better understood their context – but more importantly in the long term, to meet and begin to work with teacher educators and mathematics education researchers in the region.

In August 2018 I was able to build on that visit by working with researchers from across East Africa, who identified the development of teacher educators in the region, together with the policy-related local research capacity, as the most effort-effective focus.

You were recently in Uganda, following up on the project. How did the visit go?

I was running a course for primary mathematics teacher educators from across East Africa, alongside teachers from each of Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and Rwanda, focusing on developing active learning with meaning-making – in ways that can be enacted in low-resource classrooms with sometimes up to 180 learners.

That took quite a lot of preparation and background work, and needs to be refined further, but was exciting, stimulating – and as always, humbling. And Uganda is such a beautiful country!

How will you measure the project’s success?

We know from a multiplicity of sources that it’s important for embedding of course learning that teacher educators and teachers take this back to their local contexts, explore, adapt and experiment with it in manageable ways; are supported to reflect on what they’re finding at frequent intervals; and gradually commit to new ways of working in collaborative ways. So all the course participants now have three months’ supported distance learning, during which they have three assignments.

Already participants are talking of the course as ‘life-changing’ for both them and their learners, but of course, the proof of any success will lie on the ground in their home contexts. Importantly, I’m also following up these teacher educators’ experiences in a systematic way together with a Ugandan mathematics education researcher, to mutual benefit since I have more research expertise than she does, but she can access participants’ experiences through use of their home language.

Along with Tanzania and Uganda, you’ve worked in countries including Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Armenia and Jordan. Why do you think it’s important to work on a global scale?

Essentially, I do believe we are global citizens − and in this country, we’re exceptionally privileged in the opportunities we’ve had available to us, especially in education. So I think there’s a moral imperative to share the fruit of those opportunities. But I also believe there is always so much to be learned from working in different contexts and cultures, so that although I’ve been lucky enough to have a variety of overseas opportunities, I’ve always returned having learned at least as much as I’ve given.

Professionally, working in low-resource contexts has helped me focus on what are the essentials, the core of my work as a teacher and mathematician, and that’s been really exciting.

What’s your best memory from these global experiences?

Where to start? I think the core satisfaction has been when the mathematics has begun to make sense to teachers and teacher educators in ways they’ve not expected or experienced before.

One teacher educator in Uganda said at the end of the face to face course, ‘I had no idea there was a mathematical world out there that’s just so beautiful – and such fun’ – and if teacher educators have ‘caught’ that, there’s hope then for it to spread to young people in classrooms. That’s immensely satisfying.

Researchers: How to use your global networks to benefit students

GuestBlogger25 January 2019

By Victoria Shaw, Strategic Programme Manager, UCL Global Engagement Office 

UCL’s Global Engagement Strategy sets out the goal for 30% of our undergraduate student body to have an international experience as part of their degree programme by 2020. This reflects a growing body of evidence that study and work abroad leads to better degrees and better jobs.

UCL is home to one of the UK’s most international academic communities and researchers travel all over the world to build networks and partnerships. So how can globally engaged academics use their connections to further inbound and outbound student mobility?

Short-term global opportunities

Demand for short-term global opportunities is accelerating among undergraduates worldwide and UCL students are no exception.

In 2017/18, UCL Study Abroad supported 306 students for short-term mobilities, a 115% increase on the previous year. Students took up a variety of opportunities, ranging from research on howler monkeys in Mexico to the study of Chinese language and culture in Shanghai.

“Given the interest in and clear appetite for short-term opportunities, we are working to expand this exciting area,” says Owain Evans, Short Mobilities Coordinator.

“If academic colleagues learn of interesting international summer schools, research or volunteering opportunities while visiting partner institutions or through conversations with collaborators, please get in touch – we’d love to hear more and explore new options for UCL students.”

Current summer schools, research placements and other openings can be viewed on the Short-Term Global Opportunities web page, along with information on UCL’s Global Experience Bursary, which provides financial support for students.

UCL Summer School

UCL’s own Summer School has grown rapidly since its launch in 2016 and receives outstanding feedback on the experience it provides for students.

Last year, students attended from over 240 universities, attracted to the small group teaching and wide choice of modules. Students can apply individually or under an institutional agreement, and many use it as a stepping stone to postgraduate study.

“Academic staff have great connections and play an important part in promoting the Summer School internationally,” says Rhod Fiorini, Head of Programme.

The Summer School team can provide publicity materials for UCL staff wishing to promote the programme and explore group discounts for partners.

Global internships

Scholars with links to companies and NGOs abroad should be aware that UCL Careers is seeking international internships for UCL students.

“Organisations around the world are increasingly seeking graduates who are adaptable, curious and resilient,” says Rhiannon Williams, Global Internships Manager.

“An internship abroad helps students develop these skills whilst kick-starting their global careers. It also allows employers to create a pipeline of globally-minded talent for their business, particularly valuable if they are looking to expand into new markets.”

Last year, 76 students visited over 25 different countries as part of the Global Internships Programme.

If academic staff make a referral, UCL Careers will work with the organisation to identify internships, advertise them to students and shortlist applicants.

UCL has secured Erasmus+ funding, managed jointly by Careers and Study Abroad, for students undertaking positions within the EU, making this a particularly desirable destination for new internships.

Contacts

For more information or to discuss proposals:

  • Short-term Global Opportunities: Owain Evans, Short Mobilities Coordinator (o.evans@ucl.ac.uk)
  • UCL Summer School: Rhod Fiorini, Head of the UCL Summer School (r.fiorini@ucl.ac.uk)
  • Global Internships: Rhiannon Williams, Global Internships Manager (rhiannon.e.williams@ucl.ac.uk)

UCL Qatar students changing libraries in Doha through UCL ChangeMakers project

GuestBlogger21 January 2019

By Bruce Bulmuo 

Master’s degree students at UCL Qatar have completed a UCL ChangeMakers project which offered students the opportunity to work with a school library in Doha to enhance practice-based learning for students in the Library and Information Studies program.

The students spent several months working with Al-Rowad International School to provide assessment and consultation services.

Recommendations were made to the authorities of the school on potential changes to the library to meet standards set by Qatar National School Accreditation (QNSA).

Meeting international standards 

To be eligible for full accreditation, schools in Qatar are required by QNSA to have well-resourced and functioning libraries that meet international standards. After a rigorous search, Al-Rowad International School was selected to be the first beneficiary of ChangeMakers in Qatar.

Led by Asma Al-Maadheed, the team of five students worked under the supervision of Dr. Milena Dobreva, Co-ordinator of the Library and Information Studies program at UCL Qatar, to write a library policy and install an automated library system for the school’s library.

Staff of the school were given basic training on how to operate the library system that was installed on their main library computer to ensure efficiency in the management of the library.

Fostering collaboration and innovation 

The UCL ChangeMakers project fosters collaboration and innovation to further enhance the learning experience of students. The project also forms part of commitment at UCL Qatar to prepare students for the work environment.

The project titled ‘Practice-based Team Learning through Assessing and Supporting School Libraries in Qatar’, also served as a hands-on practice for students in line with UCL’s mission of developing professionals through research based-based learning.

The students also considered the project as a form of corporate social responsibility that allowed them to give back to society the knowledge they have gained from the lecture halls.

UCL-backed AHRI launches groundbreaking health research programme in South Africa

Sian EGardiner8 January 2019

The Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI), led by UCL Professor Deenan Pillay, is bringing cutting-edge health screening and scientific research to an area of northern KwaZulu-Natal with one of the highest rates of HIV and tuberculosis in South Africa.

Dubbed ‘Vukuzazi’, which means ‘wake up and know yourself,’ the new research programme is designed to produce a disease profile of the community, which will guide future healthcare plans.

Comprehensive health screenings

People living in AHRI’s health and demographic surveillance system site in uMkhanyakude District are being invited to participate in a comprehensive health screening at a Vukuzazi mobile health screening fair.

The easy-access screenings will test for diabetes, high blood pressure, nutritional status, tobacco and alcohol use as well as HIV and tuberculosis, in a bid to lower the prevalence of diseases such as TB and to tackle the stigma still often associated with HIV screenings.

AHRI aims to reach 30,000 participants over the course of 18 months, with the mobile camp coming within one kilometre of each participant’s home.

State-of-the art equipment

The state of the art equipment will allow AHRI’s clinical team to examine this information in real time, link it together and make referrals to the public health system for people as needed.

“There are very few surveillance sites of the sort that we are building on,” said AHRI Deputy Director for Science, Professor Thumbi Ndung’u in a recent statement. “AHRI has been monitoring 120, 000 individuals for the past 15 years. We are now building on to that a new level of clinical testing and diagnosis, together with biological sampling.

Understanding the genetic makeup

“One of the key aspects of Vukuzazi that will push this research agenda forward is understanding the genetic makeup of our population, but in particular what is it about those genetics which determines who is protected from disease, and who gets disease,” said AHRI Director, Professor Pillay.

“There is a paucity of data from Africa, sub-Saharan Africa in particular, and we want to redress that balance. We want to ensure that the potential benefits that are being shown to populations in the West can also be provided to the population here.”

Significant academic partner

Launched in 2016, AHRI’s inception was made possible through £63m in grants from Wellcome Trust and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), with UCL and the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) as significant academic partners.

In 2018, UCL launched funding via the Division of Infection and Immunity for South African students to study at UCL through AHRI on studentships.

Links

Why individual actions can make a world of difference: My time at the 2018 One Young World Summit

GuestBlogger20 November 2018

By Isha Kulkarni

Once every year, over a thousand people between the ages of 18 and 30 are chosen as One Young World delegates and a prominent city somewhere in the world prepares to host them for four unforgettable days.

Representing organisations large and small – multinationals, non-profits and universities – and countries far and wide, there is only really one thing that binds them: the belief that anyone can make a difference.

If someone had told me when I started my first year at UCL that I would be the university’s representative at One Young World this year in the Hague, Netherlands, I would have laughed in their face. I come from a privileged family, well-off enough to afford overseas tuition. I have never done anything incredibly extraordinary; I just grew up with the values of giving back ingrained in me. I may be fortunate, but there are so many that are not, and the least I can do is help in any way I can afford.

Power of the individual 

So, I did. I volunteered for local NGOs in Mumbai while in high school. I aided waste management initiatives in the community. I worked in drought-prone rural Western India and realised that pursuing civil engineering was not only something that interested me, but also something that would help me make a difference. After I started university, I volunteered with Engineers Without Borders UCL and then UCL Engineers in Action. I continued volunteering in Mumbai during the summers and worked on affordable technology during my research internship after second year.

This is why UCL Global chose me as the university delegate – and One Young World made me realise that it was acceptable that I had not made a world-shattering discovery or received an armful of awards. I had still pitched in, in any way I could. That is what One Young World is about: speeches, workshops and excursions that inspire you and remind you of the power of the individual. The fact that one person can create change, however small that change may be. You do not need to have the largest bank balance or the greatest personality: you can change things just as you are.

Community feel 

One Young World also reminded me of the power of togetherness. Tabata Amaral, a delegate speaker at the summit, said: “A dream that’s dreamed together becomes a reality.” One Young World was more than a summit in that sense – it was a community. It was the feeling of being in sync with 1,900 other people from around the world, from countries I had never heard about. It was about a group of people wanting the same thing for the world and taking steps to accomplish that.

The summit was divided into a multitude of topics such as Environment, Health, Peace & Justice, and Human Rights – but the primary message I took from each of the plenary sessions, each of the workshops and each of the keynote speeches was the same. Changing the world is an uphill task: we cannot escape the problems that plague society today.

Doing our best 

Be it the refugee crises in different pockets of the world, the fundamental gender issues brought to attention by the #MeToo movement, or global warming affecting our oceans, forests, and cities, we have a long way to go before we can justifiably say that we have been triumphant.

But we also have so much to celebrate. Somewhere in South Africa, a woman builds and runs schools for underprivileged youth after quitting her job at a multinational private equity firm. Somewhere in Colombia, a young man has dedicated his life to influencing legislative changes for improved social welfare.

At UCL, we conduct an awe-inspiring amount of research on sustainability, education, human rights, global cooperation and the Sustainable Development Goals as a whole. We are doing our best in any way we can. And this concept, at its root, fuels me.

Every one of us can change the world if we put our minds to it. Following One Young World, I have promised myself to do just that. I hope that in some way, shape or form, you will, too.

Alumni interview: Stella Lu, co-founder of the Shanghai Alumni Club

Sian EGardiner14 November 2018

Stella Lu is one of the co-founders of the Shanghai Alumni Club. We spoke to her to find out about her experiences as an international UCL student and her activity as an alumni volunteer.

How did you find studying at UCL, in the centre of London?  

The first thing I’d highlight is the culture: UCL is right in the centre of London, near to the British Museum, so we could walk there right after work. You really feel the combination of the traditional and the modern in London. It’s a great lifestyle: the student halls are located in the centre too, so it’s really convenient for people to travel around the city – and to get to the best shopping areas!  

Stella and Sky, UCL alumni

How has your time at UCL helped you to achieve your ambitions?  

I studied Law, specifically international arbitration, which is quite a new and emerging area. The UK is actually the starting place for arbitration, so studying at the UCL law school really equipped me with the skills and knowledge to help my clients.   

Since graduating in 2011, how have you stayed in touch with the UCL community? 

After graduation I went back to China with my husband – who I met at UCL – and we found there was no UCL alumni association here in Shanghai. As we’d loved our time there, and wanted to communicate with other UCL alumni, I started the Shanghai Alumni Club together with some friends.  

Since then, we’ve organised various events to help people to get to know each other. All of the events have one common theme: that we all graduated from UCL and we’re all really proud of that.  

How often do you meet up? 

It depends: we have at least ten events throughout the year. The biggest event is the annual party, where the Provost comes to celebrate with alumni in Shanghai. We also organise academic events and we’ve had forums on subjects such as architecture, finance and real estate. Last week, we held a UCL Connect event about entrepreneurship.  

We also have inter-uni mixers, with other UK schools, where people can relax and get to know one another, along with cultural events. We organise trips to movies or operas – last week, we organised for alumni to see the musical Kinky Boots together. There are also smaller group events, like paintball or picnics, together with other schools. It’s quite a range: from big ceremonies to small events.  

What motivates you to volunteer?  

It gives me a real sense of achievement. We have a committee here at Shanghai, with nine members, and we really feel like we’re family. Whenever we see that an event has been a big success, we feel a huge sense of accomplisment. We also strive to strengthen the relationship between China and the UK; we have good relationships with organisations such as the British Consulate and British Council here, and our work supports theirs.  

What advice would you have for Chinese students looking to study in the UK? 

I’d strongly recommend choosing UCL because of its location, right in the centre of one of the best cities in the world. Also because of its impressive academic achievements – if you study at UCL, you’re sure to have your own. As a student, I always felt UK people were very friendly to us, and UCL is very open to international students.  

  • This interview originally featured in the UCL and China resource: an in-depth look at UCL’s current and historical connections with China.

Ask an Academic: Daisuke Kawata, Professor of Astronomy

Sian EGardiner5 November 2018

Daisuke Kawata is Professor of Astronomy at UCL’s Department of Space & Climate Physics, based at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory.

He was among the recipients of the inaugural UCL-University of Toronto seed funding in 2017, to encourage collaboration between academics at the two institutions. A year on from the initial funding, we caught up with him to hear more about how the collaboration is progressing.

How did you first become interested in astronomy?

My undergraduate degree was actually in Engineering, but when computer simulations started getting bigger and bigger, I became interested in using computers to understand physics and how the universe is made up. I then became fascinated with the evolution of the Milky Way. So I moved from undergraduate Engineering to a master’s course in Astronomy, and I did a PhD in Astronomy in Japan.

Where has your research taken you?

After my post doc in Japan, I worked in Australia for about four years, and I then went to California in the USA. I worked there for three and a half years or so. Now, at UCL, I feel lucky to be part of this research-intensive institution. The research level in the UK is very high and lots of people gather in London: it’s an international environment. At the moment I’m working with colleagues in the Computer Science department, so the opportunities to work with people elsewhere in the UCL family is exciting.

You were one of the recipients of the UCL-University of Toronto seed funding for collaboration with academics at Toronto in 2017. What are you working on together?

Our research aims to understand the structure of the Milky Way, as well as how it formed and evolved. It’s quite an exciting moment for us because the European Space Agency launched a space craft called Gaia in December 2013, which is observing the motion of over a billion stars in the Milky Way, and they release intermittent data to the community so that we can use the satellite data for our research.

As you can imagine, if you’re in the forest looking out at the trees, it’s very difficult to understand how big the forest is and how the trees are distributed – and the same applies for our galaxy. You need a physical, computer model to understand the Gaia Data. So that’s what our collaboration has set up. It’s a computer simulated Milky Way model, and our hope is that this computer model will be used to picture the whole structure of the galaxy.

How did the connection with Toronto first come about?

We met Jo Bovy, my counterpart in Toronto, at a conference about the Milky Way about eight years or so ago, when he was still a PhD student. I knew him because he was making quite advanced statistical models to understand the Milky Way. I knew he was a rising star in our field, but it was two years ago when I was at one of the institutes in New York and he was doing a sabbatical there that we were able to spend a week in the same location and really discuss this modelling technique, ‘Made-to-measure.’

We talked about advancing this computer simulation model, which my PhD student Jason hunt and I had already made a prototype of. We had an intense discussion with Jo on how we could improve it and made a big road map for how we could do so. So that was the starting point, almost two years ago.

What was the outcome of your recent visit to Toronto?

We visited at the beginning of October, and had a series of meetings almost every day, which meant lots of discussion time. We came up with ideas for improving the Made-to-measure technique and other ideas about using Gaia Data to understand the structure of the galaxy. We also started working on some papers together.

Do you have advice for anyone who hasn’t collaborated on such a global scale before? How do you make an international partnership work?

Conferences are always a good starting point – with a couple of hundred people there, there are plenty of people to talk to. And tea time is a good time to start! The next step is, if you’ve met a scientist you want to work with, try and spend an extended period of time at the same location to talk about a specific topic.

What are next steps for the project with Toronto?

We’re going to try and apply this Made-to-measure model to the Gaia Data. Before this application we will try to understand it in a more local neighbourhood: we still don’t know much dark matter is around us, and using this technique we hope we can get more accurate measurements of the dark matter density in the solar neighbourhood.