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The role and value of joint seed funds in research collaboration

Guest Blogger1 July 2022

Contributors: Komal Bhatia, Dr Amit Khandelwal, Marilyn Aviles, Dr Ian Scott and Professor Monica Lakhanpaul

Global research culture celebrates creativity, knowledge exchange, and innovation – all underpinned by collaboration. The modern academy employs its sharp tools to find new solutions to old problems and provide historicised perspectives on contemporary phenomena. Some ideas can set society on the path to more sustainable and equitable development, while others fall short of the promise they first held. And so, the circle of (research) life continues.

So here is a question (asked many times) in academia: What’s the best way to create an environment in which brilliant research can flourish and provide benefits for society at large?

Well, we don’t know what the best method is, but we do know of a really good one: joint seed funds.

Joint seed funds

These are a research funding mechanism in which two (or more) organisations pool financial and institutional resources to enable their researchers to work together.

Unlike large multi-million-pound consortia with an established track record of collaboration between organisations, researchers who apply for joint seed funds are looking for small pots of money for a team with little history of collaboration but lots of potential. A fundamental pillar is an innate desire to build relationships that will be equitable, bi-directional and ideally longer-term – positioned to advance knowledge and solve challenges local and worldwide

UCL has deployed such seed funds across the world with specific partners. For example, in India our current joint research seed partners include AIIMS, IIT-D, IISc and IIT Madras. Both parties contribute an equal amount of money (recognising the equal partnership between both institutions) which goes to the researchers in their respective institutes who submit competitively assessed proposals, ensuring that the project (i) is split evenly between researchers and (ii) draws on joint  and complementary expertise in both institutions. UCL are currently exploring whether joint seed funds can be expanded to include multiple partner institutions or even possibly in another continent.

As members of the UCL panel that reviewed applications for Joint Seed Funds 2021-22 to foster collaboration between researchers in the UK and India, we read, discussed, and scored dozens of proposals. We have learnt a few things about why such funding mechanisms matter, what makes an application stand out, and who can benefit from joint seed funds.

Making a difference – why joint research seed funds matter

Key message: Big, strategic research partnerships have a better chance of succeeding if there is a solid history of collaboration supported by small pots of seed funding.

There are many reasons why joint research seed funds can help UCL researchers to engage with their overseas counterpart not only because big, strategic research partnerships have a better chance of succeeding if there is a solid history of collaboration supported by small pots of seed funding, but also to use research to benefit civic society and the environment, and to expanding the international footprint of collaborations. Some of these are discussed below.

1. Anchoring institutional partnerships and building trust

Joint seed funds can help embed large collaborative programmes of research in strong teams and solid partnerships. Participating organisations can benefit from a history of smaller projects which demonstrate impact and successful completion across multiple areas of research and departments. A series of joint seed funding schemes can help build relationships and trust between researchers as well as institutions.

2. Lever to promote interdisciplinary research and public engagement

By requiring applicants to demonstrate interdisciplinary thinking and collaboration and outlining clear public engagement activities, UCL’s joint seed funding schemes promote researchers who already value these ways of working and encouraging others to really think through how interdisciplinarity can benefit their research and what they can do to involve participants, patients and the public (civic society) in the research process.

It can be difficult to launch into these practices in large research programmes, so small seed grants can be an excellent method to nudge researchers into thinking across disciplines and producing outputs for lay audiences.

3. Agile mechanism for equitable collaboration

The joint funding model has an in-built equity feature to ensure that collaborating institutions have an equal stake in each project. Small grant schemes can also enable more equitable collaboration if they specifically encourage and commend applications from groups which are gender-equal, promote the career development of early career researchers, and involve mutual learning and demonstrably equal power-sharing between the so-called developed and developing world.

4. Reputation and Image through impact

Seed funds offer a good opportunity to embed researchers’ international footprint and market their expertise. In turn this could have a longer-term benefit of enhancing their reputation not only within UCL and partner institutions, but also externally, for example, in support of strengthening bilateral engagement between the UK and India. In fact, multilateral organisations such as the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and World Health Organisation are more willing to connect with researchers who are culturally adaptive, sensitive and reflective.

Why joint seed funds matter for you

Key message: Large grants can seem like the obvious solution to the most urgent research questions, but innovative research often needs modest amounts of money to get started. Seed funds are small but mighty.

If you are a research student…

Small, collaborative grants are a fantastic way to gain early experience in grant management, research governance, team building and publication, as well as to practices those core research skills. You can get involved in small projects led by your supervisors or colleagues, or if eligible, lead one of your own.

If you are an early career researcher…

Seed funds can be a steppingstone to bigger grants by helping you build a track record of funding success, find new collaborators, and most importantly, enabling you to conduct preliminary or formative work that can feed into applications for individual research fellowships or early career development schemes. If you’ve been looking for something to kickstart your journey towards independence, consider applying for a seed grant.

If you are on the review panel…

Enjoy the experience of learning more about the ideas of other researchers and the perspectives of other panellists. While you will almost certainly enjoy the power you hold over the future research plans of applicants, remember that seeing how others write and structure their proposals may also help you in your own work. Joining the review panel for small grants can be a useful way for early career researchers to gain some experience in assessing and scoring proposals, and bring a fresh perspective to the scheme’s priorities, so look out for the junior panellist who is keen to learn and keen to impress!

If you are a principal investigator…

Consider applying for one yourself, especially if you have a nascent idea that needs just that little bit more impetus to grow before it can take shape as a larger grant application. Seed grants can be useful at any career stage. If you are interested in supporting less experienced colleagues, encourage them to put forward an application and provide them with constructive feedback on their ideas and offer guidance throughout the process. Seed grants provide a structured mechanism to practice mentoring skills, and to encourage leadership training within your team.

If you are leading a department or institution…

There are many ways in which joint seed funds can help deliver your institutional strategy and research priorities. It allows your organisation to test emerging partnerships through small, impact-focused projects before investing in facilities and support for long-term, large-scale research programmes. Joint seed funds are also an excellent way to focus on priorities that require targeted work or a very visible commitment to wider institutional goals.

Conclusion

Joint research seed funds, even if the sum of monies offered is small in comparison to large multimillion pound grants, help to facilitate research internationally. They have a catalytic role in building relationships between the principal investigators and their teams, helping to enhance researchers’ expertise and the reputation of the institutions involved.

Crucially, they can also be a conduit to engage in citizen science, working with local communities or simply focusing on global research challenges.

The upshot is that joint seed funds can support your academic vision and hunger through research, knowledge exchange and transfer as well as develop the skills of the next generation of students in an increasingly globalised world.

See all UCL Research, Innovation & Global Engagement seed funding opportunities here.

Apply now: Yenching Academy of Peking University 2022

j.chua24 September 2021

Applications are now open for UCL students wishing to join the September 2022 cohort of the Yenching Academy of Peking University (PKU)’s fully funded Master’s programme in China Studies. Successful applicants will have the opportunity to study in Beijing and develop their understanding of China and its role in the world.

Please note that there is a different application process for Chinese nationals (more details below).

The programme is for English speakers. At the core of the programme lies an emphasis on interdisciplinarity and the value it assigns to thinking about China’s past, present and future – from both Chinese and international perspectives.

Scholars are given the flexibility to customise their programme within the broadly defined fields of the humanities and social sciences. Working closely with their academic mentors, they create their own study paths by choosing courses from six research areas:

  • Economics and Management
  • History and Archaeology
  • Philosophy and Religion
  • Politics and International Relations
  • Law and Society
  • Literature and Culture

Virtual information sessions specific to each of the six research areas, to be held between 15 October and 26 November, are open for registration here. Students and alumni speakers will attend to share their experiences.

An additional information session, specifically for UCL students, will be hosted by Yenching Academy on 28 October at 11am (BST). Join the session on Zoom with Meeting ID: 832 8945 3847 and Password: yca. In the meantime, please complete this short survey to let Yenching Academy know what topics you would like covered in the sessions.

Application process

UCL will carry out a preliminary evaluation of applications submitted by their own students and alumni. Based on this assessment, UCL will nominate students for interviews conducted by the Yenching Academy.

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. Mainland Chinese applicants must apply directly through the portal.

The deadline to submit your application to Professor Lo is Monday 22 November 2021. The programme will begin in September 2022.

More details can be found at the admissions portal link above and the Yenching Academy’s FAQs page. You can also read about UCL graduate James Ashcroft’s experience on a Yenching Academy scholarship here.

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

Apply for a BSA Media Fellowship 2020/21

j.chua30 September 2020

Behind the camera shot of an interview

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 vpi.global@ucl.ac.uk.

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 mediafellows@britishscienceassociation.org

Invitation to collaborate on the UN75 Initiative

j.chua3 June 2020

Wind turbine fields in CornwallThe 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.

UCL staff and students are invited to complete this short, one-minute survey available in 47 languages.

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.

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.

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.

How Nine Weeks in Toronto Changed the Course of My PhD

Guest Blogger5 March 2020

Daniyal Jafree with colleagues at the University of TorontoDaniyal 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.

Q&A with UCL-PKU MBA graduate Xiaojing Wang

Sophie Vinter22 November 2019

Xiaojing Wang, graduate from the UCL-PKU MBAXiaojing Wang is one of the first students graduating from the UCL-Peking University MBA.

Launched in 2016 as part of UCL and PKU’s deep strategic partnership, the MBA combines the unique research and teaching strengths of the UCL School of Management and the Peking University National School of Development.

Based in Beijing, students have the opportunity to complete elective courses in London during the summer. They also undertake a business research project, supplemented by training and guidance on consultancy services, business planning, and business research.

  • Can you tell us more about your current job and what your role involves?

I’m working in the UK Department for International Trade Education and Skills Team (China) as the Head of Early Years Education and English Language Training.

My role is to support UK-China G2G and B2B collaboration in these two areas, both on export and investment.

  • How did you hear about the UCL-PKU MBA and what made you want to apply?

One of the stakeholders that I knew studied an MBA at PKU, so I contacted the recruitment team and was recommended the UCL-PKU programme.

The programme was appealing to me because I am promoting UK education, and I am a huge fan of UK universities. UCL as a top 10 university of the world is a huge plus for my education experience.

  • What’s been the most interesting aspect of the programme for you?

The summer study in the UK was the most interesting thing. First of all, it really made me feel that I am part of UCL rather than just PKU. It gave me more attachment to the university. Secondly, the programme and the professors were really great. They offered us opportunities to align the theory we’ve seen in class with practical cases, as they took us on quite a few company visits. Thirdly, as the university is in London, it really gave us a great opportunity to feel the dynamics of the city.

Also, as we were the first group taking part, the programme did attract quite interesting colleagues to join, which made the study quite fun.

  • What did your Business Research Project focus on?

Together with two other colleagues, we analysed the Fedex and TNT acquisition project.

We basically used the theories we’ve studied in class – including accounting, decision-making and strategic management – to analyse why it was a good option for Fedex to acquire TNT. We hope to generate some suggestions for Chinese express companies to take as reference when they consider overseas mergers and acquisitions.

I was very impressed by all the courses related to decision making and strategy, especially in the UK. The professors were very enthusiastic, and passed on their enthusiasm and knowledge to us.

  • What are the rest of your cohort like? Have you found it useful to learn from each other?

Indeed, the colleagues who joined the programme were from different parts of China and different industries. I’ve definitely learnt a great deal from them, and they also made my study experience more fun as well.

  • Do you think doing the MBA has benefited your career? If so, how?

I do think has benefited my career. I am from an Arts & Humanities background, and the knowledge I gained about accounting and decision-making etc. helped me to be more rational when looking at different projects. I could provide more profound insight to the stakeholders that I work with.

Find out more about the UCL-PKU MBA.

Peking University and UCL agree joint MBA programme.

More news about UCL in East Asia.

Ask an Academic: Aimee Spector

Sophie Vinter21 November 2019

Aimee is Professor of Old Age Clinical Psychology in the Department of Clinical, Educational and Health Psychology, UCL. Her work focuses on CST (Cognitive Stimulation Therapy), which she originally developed as her PhD thesis from 1999-2001. Since then, she has established and coordinates the International CST centre and developed the CST training course, having trained over 2000 people in CST. She is the author of numerous academic publications on CST and on the four CST training manuals. Since its initial publication in 2003, CST remains the only non-pharmacological intervention recommended for cognitive dementia in the updated (2018) Department of Health NICE guidelines.

Aimee has continued to supervise academic research on CST and other psychosocial interventions for dementia, such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). In late November she visited Peking University to continue a collaboration with colleagues there into CST research.

Can you give us a brief overview of your research into Cognitive Stimulation Therapy?

The journey began in 1998, when I started my PhD here at UCL. My thesis aimed to develop and evaluate a non-pharmacological intervention for dementia, using similar methodology and outcomes to the drug trials, which at the time were the only recommended treatment for mild to moderate dementia. We ended up developing CST, a group intervention that stimulates different cognitive functions through fun activities. We found that its cognitive benefits were comparable to the dementia medication, whilst it also significantly improved quality of life. I have continued to be involved in CST research since then, including looking at its longer term effects, individualised CST and global implementation studies.

What got you interested in the subject in the first place?

When I was a psychology undergraduate, I did work experience in a care home for older people. I was shocked at the lack of stimulation that people received, particularly those with dementia, who spent so much time doing nothing. Their unmet needs and subsequent excess disability were palpable. I was very lucky to find a PhD project that so clearly matched a clinical interest of mine.

What kind of outcomes have you seen from implementing CST programmes around the world?

Several countries (including Brazil, the US, Hong Kong, Portugal, Germany and Tanzania) have subsequently translated, culturally adapted and evaluated the CST programme that we developed at UCL. Studies have repeatedly shown that CST leads to significant benefits in cognitive function, with many showing secondary benefits including significant improvements in quality of life, depression and carer well-being.

What will you be working on with your colleagues at PKU?

We are fortunate in that a Chinese CST manual is now published, and a team in Hong Kong have evaluated CST and published this work. We therefore are moving towards ‘implementation research’, which involves developing and testing methodology to bring an intervention into wide-scale practice. We will develop and publish an implementation plan for CST in China, which will involve interviewing a range of stakeholders (people with dementia and their families, health professionals and policy / decision makers). This plan will consider the barriers and facilitators of effective implementation, outlining mechanisms to overcome them. Our next step will be to collaboratively apply for grant funding to test out this implementation plan experimentally. We will use the methodology developed in a similar CST implementation programme (‘CST International’) that I currently lead in Brazil, India and Tanzania, funded by the MRC. We also plan to hold a conference at PKU on psychosocial interventions for dementia, develop the first cohort of CST trainers in China (as we have now done in Hong Kong) and are exploring opportunities for teaching and student exchange. 

How do you think the cross-cultural collaboration will support your work?

Dementia is an enormous, global problem. Bringing in a range of cultural perspectives and testing implementation in different cultures and environments can only enhance our understanding of the mechanisms of action in CST and best practice in service delivery. This perspective is particularly important given that the UK is multicultural and we are often delivering clinical interventions to people from a range of cultures and perspectives.

What would you say to other UCL academics who are thinking of applying for UCL-PKU Strategic Partner Funds?

Go for it! These funds open up fantastic opportunities to search for new partners in your area of research, facilitate collaborations that otherwise might not happen, and enable cross cultural learning. My past UCL-HKU partnership supported by UCL Grand Challenges has led to long-term collaborations (and friendships), which I hope will continue to grow in years to come.

Find out more: International CST website 

International CST on Twitter