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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.

Q&A with PAHUS founder Dr Kartik Sharma

j.chua24 March 2021

Dr Kartik SharmaDr Kartik Sharma is an alumnus of the UCL Health Humanities Centre, filmmaker and founder of Public Arts Health and Us (PAHUS), an interdisciplinary organisation undertaking public engagement and evaluation initiatives to raise awareness of health and social issues through the medium of film and the arts.

PAHUS was conceptualised in Bangkok, Thailand and is based in New Delhi, India. It comprises of a board of international academics, artists and activists and frequently collaborates with universities, government agencies, research institutes, legal firms, filmmakers and arts-based organisations both in India and the UK. With support from the Hatchery, UCL Innovation & Enterprises’s startup incubator, PAHUS will soon begin operations in London.

Here, Kartik tells us how he’s been collaborating on a range of different UCL projects including a documentary and upcoming global arts and science exhibition opening on 26 March 2021, as well as his future plans and vision for PAHUS .

Can you tell us a little bit about the documentary you’re currently shooting?

I’m shooting a travel documentary called Myths and Beliefs in Rajasthan, a very colourful, diverse and culturally rich state in India approximately the size of France. It’s a UCL-led project from Pro-Vice-Provost (South Asia) Professor Monica Lakhanpaul and it is our latest collaboration together. I have travelled through six to seven cities scattered all across Rajasthan to film this documentary. I’ve had the opportunity to interview many different people from all walks of life, including royalty living in forts and regular people wandering upon camels. It will be another five or six months before the film sees the light of day but I’m really excited about it. I love filmmaking and using it to make public health and social issues more accessible, digestible and enjoyable for a regular audience. Today’s my last day in Rajasthan and tomorrow I’m flying back to Delhi to continue work on another UCL-led project, The Early Years: A Global Art & Science Exhibition.

How was the idea for The Early Years exhibition born and what will it involve?

The process started about a year ago when Professor Monica Lakhanpaul approached me with the idea of putting on a global art and science exhibition about the first 1000 days of a child’s life. I had previously worked with Monica to design a coffee table book for the PANChSHEEEL Project and directed a film for the NEON project. The upcoming exhibition is led by Monica and UCL Great Ormand Street Institute of Child Health, in collaboration with PAHUS and our India-based partner India Alliance.

Initially we wanted the exhibition to be held in-person at a popular art gallery in Delhi, but our plans shifted when COVID-19 struck and we decided to hold it virtually. On 26 March we’ll unveil the virtual platform with films, paintings and photographs collected from an India-focused art campaign. These will be showcased in an immersive way and later housed within the PAHUS web portal. We’ll also have a panel discussion on “The Power of Arts in Public Health.” Panellists will include Professor K. VijayRaghavan, Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India; award-winning photographer Mr Raghu Rai; Sir Mark Tully, former Bureau Chief of BBC New Delhi; and senior members from the World Bank, Save the Children, India and UKRI India.

How will the UCL Hatchery programme support your vision for PAHUS?

I was granted an entrepreneurial visa from the UCL Hatchery programme, which I’ll be using to set up a new base for PAHUS in London. It was very competitive and I’m very grateful for the opportunity. I hope it will help further expand my vision of making research more accessible and interesting for the general public! I hope to strengthen the link between my work in India and the UK, and eventually expand to South East Asia and East Asia. I envision PAHUS growing to be a public relations and engagement agency that crosses boundaries and acts as a bridge between the public and research – this has become all the more important as we have seen so much misinformation flying about during the pandemic.

When you build a bridge you need a strong concrete foundation with dependable pillars and UCL has been that foundation for me over the years. I am very grateful to my Health Humanities tutor, Professor Sonu Shamdasani, who allowed me to make my course as eclectic as possible. I was able to complete my dissertation, The Story of Madness in Indian Cinema, with first class honours thanks to Professor Sonu’s patience and guidance. I must also thank Mr Jivko Hristov from the UCL Hatchery who really helped me hone my business idea to make it work in a UK setting. Last but not least, I must thank Professor Monica Lakhanpaul for her continuing mentorship – I feel very lucky to have met a UCL professor who is equally passionate about using the arts and filmmaking in research settings.

As a line goes in Cinema Paradiso, “whatever you end up doing, love it”. I somehow found myself founding PAHUS – and to be honest I am truly loving this journey.

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.

 

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.

Visit from Zheijiang University moves an important archaeological collaboration forward

Sophie Vinter22 November 2019

MoU signing ceremony with Zhejiang University

In late September 2019, Dame Nicola Brewer, Vice-Provost (International) and Katharine Carruthers, Pro-Vice-Provost (East Asia) met with a delegation from China’s Zhejiang University (ZJU) to sign an expiring Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).

Founded in 1897, Zhejiang University (ZJU) is a prestigious research intensive university in China, located in the city of Hangzhou, about two and a half hours’ drive from Shanghai. With around 55,000 students across 37 colleges and schools, Zheijiang ranks among the top three universities in China. The MoU aims to deepen collaborations between UCL and ZJU in education and research across areas in Social and Historical Sciences, Brain Sciences, Population Health Science and Engineering Sciences.

During the meeting, Nicola and Katharine shared UCL’s approach to global engagement with Prof He Lianzhen (ZJU Vice President International), who was on her first visit to UCL. There are already strong existing links between UCL and ZJU in archaeology, brain sciences, global child health, women’s health, engineering and student exchange. Over the past five years, these collaborations have produced 117 co-authored papers in areas ranging from biochemistry to engineering sciences.

After the meeting, the delegation met with Professor Sue Hamiltion (Director of IoA), Professor Dorian Fuller (Executive Director of the ICCHA) and ZJU alumni at the Institute of Archaeology. Finally, they visited Dr Dominic Perring at the IoA to discuss his joint research project with ZJU, the Shanxi Digital Documentation Project.

This project aims to undertake a comprehensive survey of the ancient Daoist and Buddhist temples in the remote villages of China’s Shanxi province, using high-resolution photographic and three-dimensional photogrammetric techniques to produce digital images of temple paintings and associated architecture. There is an urgent need to undertake a comprehensive survey of these temples, which are home to numerous undocumented wall paintings and temple art. These temples, which have fallen to ruin are frequently targeted by looters, and so it is crucial that their artwork is recorded for future research and conversation before they are lost forever.

 

UCL Qatar: Introducing Innovation Labs to Zambian Cultural Heritage Institutions

By Guest Blogger25 September 2019

By Milena Dobreva-McPherson, Associate Professor, Library and Information Studies, UCL Qatar.

Over the years, UCL academics have contributed in different ways to the six Grand Challenges. One of them is Cultural Understanding, and it looks at the differing, complex, and evolving relationships between people, communities, and culture in the interconnected world of today.

After many years of digitisation in libraries, museums and archives around the globe, there is a vast accumulation of digital content. We are used to it at our fingertips on any digital device. But imagine that you are interested in the diaries and other objects related to the explorations of David Livingstone in Zambia. They have already been digitised, but you must take a trip to consult the digitised collection of the museum on-site because it is not available online.

This is still the case with plenty of cultural and scientific heritage digital content from the Global South, a region which suffers the digital divide.

The digital divide results in many deficits in access to knowledge due to missing, or the very slow adoption of, modern technology. In the cultural heritage domain, the digital divide results in the lack of exposure of digital content which exists but is not made available online. There are various explanations why this is the case – ranging from lack of suitable infrastructure for digital asset management to inadequate or missing policies for user engagement with the digital content.

Led by the desire to explore what this means in the Sub Saharan African context, I submitted a proposal to the most recent call for teaching activities in Africa and the Middle East of the Global Engagement Office at UCL. It aimed to deliver the first workshop in innovation labs in cultural heritage institutions for Sub Saharan Africa in Zambia.

Having two major obstacles in mind – inadequate infrastructures and lack of user engagement policies – we designed a workshop which addressed both areas. In a world where Open Science becomes increasingly popular, the opportunities for digital presence are changing. One solution to the issue of not sharing content online due to inadequate institutional infrastructure is to start using open platforms.

The exciting work started when my proposal received support, and we scheduled our workshop to be delivered on 1 August 2019 at Livingstone Museum, Zambia.

Fig. 1. Zambian digital content is mostly available for consultation in-house – thus world users cannot access it as a consequence of the digital divide

The rationale of the workshop was to spread the innovative knowledge accumulated at UCL Qatar to setting up successful innovation labs in cultural heritage institutions in Zambia. The workshop targeted professionals from Cultural Heritage Institutions who have responsibilities to manage digital collections and those with future intentions of engaging in the curation of a digital collection in Zambia. The workshop aimed to:

  • Equip museum and library professionals in Zambia with knowledge on the approaches to setting innovation labs and discussing how local institutions can work towards creating such labs.
  • Raise awareness on the role cultural institutions offering digital content play in boosting the digital skills of scholars, educators, learners, and creatives.

UCL Qatar worked with several institutions in Zambia to prepare and deliver the workshop, including the National Museums Board of Zambia – an umbrella institution for national museums, the National Archives of Zambia, and the Department of Library and Information Science from the University of Zambia (UNZA). It also included online interventions from the British Library.

We focused the content of the workshop on state-of-the-art digitisation, examples of digitisation projects from Zambia, and setting up innovation labs in libraries, museums, and archives. There was also plenty of discussions and a practical exercise on understanding better the needs of users of digital collections.

Participants

Initially designed for 15 participants, the workshop was delivered to a total of 27 participants (see Fig. 2)

Fig. 2.  Profiles of participants
Figure 3: Workshop participants

Feedback and impact

Eighteen out of the 27 participants provided feedback and it was overwhelmingly positive. The participants were asked to rate the content of the workshop and also to comment on the value of the knowledge for themselves and their institutions.

One participant said:

“The programme should be repeated for other professionals in Zambia and if it comes I will recommend it to others.”

There were also opinions on how to take forward the knowledge shared at the workshop:

“Put the knowledge acquired in the workshop to use ASAP, conduct a follow up workshop to determine progress in created innovation labs, and massive awareness creation of the existence of the innovation labs created to potential users”

“Embrace new trends and technologies relating to digital platforms and information sharing through innovation labs”

“I’m suggesting that maybe if its possible to continue having such workshops every year so that we learn more new techniques on how to improve our libraries. Also, the workshop should have taken at least three days to allow participants learn more”.

The workshop received media coverage from three newspapers and some local radio stations.

Another innovative outcome from this event was that UCL Qatar added the first-ever dataset of the potential for Innovation labs in Africa on the UCL repository: Dobreva, M., and Phiri, F.. (2019, August 20). Cultural Heritage Innovation Labs in Africa (Version 1). figshare. https://doi.org/10.5522/04/9685127.v1

A Google folder with all the presentations, press coverage, and photos of the event is also openly available: Innovation Labs Workshop – Zambia

Conclusion

The Funding from GEO made it possible for UCL Qatar to host this first-of-its-kind workshop in Sub Saharan Africa.

This has resulted in a beneficial collaboration with local institutions in Zambia such as the National Museum Board of Zambia, University of Zambia and National Archives of Zambia to deliver of the first-ever workshop on Innovation Labs in Sub Saharan Africa.

The workshop also inspired a new sense of enthusiasm in participants to make their digital collection accessible online.

Acknowledgment

I would like to thank Dania Jalees for the infographics, Fred Nuyambe for the photograph and Fidelity Phiri who collaborated on this project.

Yenching Academy Scholarship: A life-changing opportunity in China

By Guest Blogger7 August 2019

By James Ashcroft

The Yenching Academy of Peking University aims to build bridges between China and the rest of the world through an interdisciplinary master’s program in China Studies. UCL History graduate James Ashcroft was among the first recipients of a fully funded scholarship to the programme. Here, he blogs about his experience at the Academy.

I still remember being asked by my then tutor Dr Vivienne Lo to forward an email to my fellow students about a new scholarship programme at Peking University. I had seen so many emails in my time at UCL that I didn’t bother to open it, so I just shared the email and left it at that. For some reason, I later on decided to open that email. I am so fortunate that I did because it quite literally changed the course of my life.

The Yenching Academy Scholarships give graduates from around the world the opportunity to experience China in a very international environment. It’s a fully funded scholarship at one of the best Chinese universities in the world. You get your flights paid for and your accommodation paid for, and you’re taken care of in the most incredible way.

Authentic Chinese experience

It’s a programme which gives you the opportunity to study alongside and make lifelong friendships with some of the brightest and most talented people you’ll ever meet. And for me anyway, it goes beyond your average study abroad programme in a way which makes it a truly authentic Chinese experience.

In my experience, the Yenching Academy Scholarships are relevant to anyone at UCL, whether or not they speak Mandarin or know much about the country. As someone who grew up with lots of friends who spoke multiple languages, it was always jarring that I could only speak English.

The Yenching Academy Scholarships didn’t seem like an obvious fit for me and I couldn’t speak a word of Mandarin at the time I applied. I also didn’t know much about China or its history. This is a really important point to make as I wouldn’t want any student to miss out because they don’t see the relevance to them.

Extremely rewarding

I grew so much during my time at PKU and always felt empowered to step up and contribute to the community of scholars and the university more broadly. One of my highlights was sitting on the executive organising committee for The Yenching Global Symposium, which brought together 100 or so Yenching scholars, alongside 50 graduates from PKU and 50 other students from around the world. The event has taken place every year since and it’s been extremely rewarding to see it become the success that it has.

My education at PKU was essentially a Masters in China Studies, and the qualification included elements of economics, history, international relations, law and society. I was also required to study four hours of Chinese a week, and could choose between attending classes taught in English, Mandarin or both.

My thesis analysed the Chinese government’s long-term development plan for the game of football in China in order to explore the intersection between economics, politics, and the country’s sense of place in the twenty-first century world order.

Incredible conversations

Education was only part of the picture though – as with any programme like this – and whenever I think about my time in Beijing, I think about the people I met there. I got a tremendous amount from speaking to my classmates, and we had the most incredible conversations and invigorating debates on some really important global issues.

When you’re living in another part of the world, these things can really bring you together. I’m still in touch with so many people with whom I studied – some even on a daily basis. I often meet up in person with Yenching Scholars when they come to London and I’ve visited a number of them in their home countries too.

Truly global environment

My time at Peking University has opened my eyes to working in the 21st century within a truly global environment, and I am certain that countless other students would benefit from this great opportunity.

I am always happy to speak to UCL students about my experiences as I feel very passionate about the university being represented each year in the latest cohort of Yenching Scholars. When that email comes round this year, please think carefully about opening it because it might change your life as well.