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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.

Exploring UCL’s collaborations with Canada

Sian EGardiner29 January 2018

This month saw UCL President & Provost Professor Michael Arthur host a University of Toronto (UofT) delegation at UCL’s Bloomsbury campus.

UofT President Professor Meric Gertler joined a roundtable where representatives from both universities discussed the joint funding projects launched in November 2017, along with the potential for future health science collaborations.

But how else is UCL collaborating with the University of Toronto – and Canada more widely?

Here, we take a look at the existing connections.

UofT emerges as top research partner

Looking at data for the papers published in the past five years with less than five authors (according to InCites), along with how many times they’ve been cited, the University of Toronto is UCL’s closest collaborator, by a clear margin.

UCL’s next highest collaborator in the country is University of British Colombia, followed by McGill University.

High volume of medical research collaboration

Taking a more in-depth look at the collaborations between UCL and UofT reveals that life and medical science is by far the most common area of shared research.

For example, UCL and UofT collaborated on 17 papers on clinical neurology, 15 on neurosciences, 13 on paediatrics and nine on surgery.

UofT students at UCL

The figures for 2016/17 suggest that Canadians are most commonly heading to UCL for post graduate study, and the University of Toronto is no exception. In the graph below, you can see the distribution of UofT students across UCL faculties.

Subjects that UofT undergrads study at UCL

The table below shows the number of applications from UofT undergraduates for postgraduate study at UCL. It demonstrates a high interest in social and historical sciences (22% of applications), followed by built environment (20%) and engineering (19%).

 

Number of applications from UofT undergraduates for postgraduate study at UCL

Canadian students in the UK

Taking a wider view and looking at the enrolment figures from 2011/12 through to 2015/16 across all UK universities, it’s clear that the most popular subject for Canadian students choosing to study in the UK is law, followed by social studies and medicine – a contrast to the popular subjects at UCL previously highlighted.

Canadian subject choices across the UK

Contrary to the UK as a whole, for instance, law makes up just 6% of Canadian students’ subject choices at UCL.

 Steady growth in students from Canada

Canadian students who were enrolled from 2011/12 through to 2015/16 in the UK’s Russell Group Universities

Finally, looking at the Full Time Equivalent (FTE) Canadian students who were enrolled from 2011/12 through to 2015/16 in the UK’s Russell Group Universities, it’s clear that while other universities within the group have seen a decline in Canadian applications, there has been a steady increase in students coming from Canada to UCL in recent years – a trend that we hope will continue for many years to come.

Explore the Global Engagement Office (GEO)’s interactive dashboard to see more of UCL’s collaborations across the world.

For more information on UCL’s activity in North America, visit the GEO web pages.

Ask GEO: Rachel Hall, Senior Partnership Manager (Americas)

SophieVinter29 November 2017

Rachel Hall is GEO’s Senior Partnership Manager for North and Latin America.

Q: Tell us more about your role and activity in your regions.

A: I joined GEO in August 2017 as Senior Partnership Manager for North and Latin America. Previously I was working at the Faculty of Population Health Sciences. My background is in Latin American studies and I studied an MA at UCL Institute of the Americas. My role is to develop and manage partnerships in the Americas region and a key focus is to try and map all of the collaboration that exists at UCL within North America and Latin America.

My main focus at the moment is an emerging partnership with the University of Toronto which is developing well, and facilitating different activities under this partnership. Recently we announced the winners of the first UCL-UofT funding stream, which will support some great projects in the areas of child health, education and cities, among others.

I’m also looking at building on the existing links we have with Yale and NYU. In Latin America, we are focusing on Mexico and Chile and supporting our partnership with Santander Universities and the many schemes offered under our agreement with them, such as the Research Catalyst Awards which will open next month.

Q: How are you finding the role?

A: I think the Global Engagement Strategy is great for UCL and I like how the GEO team is constantly reviewing our work, which is the nature of working with partners. We’re looking at the implementation and evaluation of our strategy and I think partners appreciate success stories and case studies of our work together – a good example of this is our ongoing partnership with Santander Universities. In my first month GEO welcomed the CEO of Santander to an event celebrating ten years of our partnership. It’s nice to now be working across the university in the full range of subjects too.

Q: What’s top of your to do list at the moment?

A: In January Provost will be welcoming the President of the University of Toronto to discuss the development of our partnership, so I am currently preparing for that. We recently set up a UCL-UofT working group that meets termly to oversee activities as we develop how we work together.

In Latin America, we’ve just announced that Dr Deepak Kalaskar (UCL Biomedical Engineering) is a successful recipient of the the UK-Mexico Visiting Chair Scheme, which offers UCL academics a great opportunity to develop links in Mexico. He’ll be collaborating with the Autonomous University of Nuevo León.

I’m always mapping more collaborations in both regions and actively pursuing leads – so if you are a UCL academic collaborating in the Americas, please get in touch as I’d love to hear about your work!

Q: How can academics find out more about UCL activity in the regions?

A: I work closely with UCL’s Pro-Vice-Provosts for North and Latin America, Professor Brad Karp and Professor Alejandro Madrigal, to develop our regional networks.

For Latin America we’re planning to hold a meeting in January to discuss new ways we can harness our shared interest in the region to leverage funding. I’d be really keen to hear from any UCL academics who are currently collaborating in Chile and Mexico as a priority. We’re also looking to broaden our partnership with Yale University and will be reaching out to the academic community over the next few months, to see where potential opportunities lie.

Q: Can you tell us a fact about either region that may surprise people?

A: Jeremy Bentham’s auto-icon is visiting the New York Metropolitan Museum next year, as part of some work being led by UCL Culture and OVPD!

Ask GEO: Ciaran Moynihan, Senior Partnership Manager (North and Latin America)

SophieVinter25 January 2017

Ciaran Moynihan, Senior Partnerships Manager (North and Latin America)Ciaran is GEO’s Senior Partnerships Manager for North and Latin America. Here he shares some key updates and opportunities from both regions with us.

Tell us more about your role in GEO and activity in your regions

I work closely with UCL faculties and departments, as well as other Professional Services, to manage and develop partnerships with institutions in North and Latin America. As you can imagine, UCL has a very wide range of activity in both regions, ranging from research collaborations and student exchanges to dual degrees and beyond. Some interesting partnerships I work on would be the Yale UCL Collaborative; an emerging priority partnership with Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile; and another emerging partnership with the University of Toronto (to name but a few!)

One challenge I face in my role is around capturing the full breadth of activity that UCL colleagues have underway with partners in North and Latin America – I am always interested to hear about links in the regions which I may not be aware of – so please do get in touch to tell me about your research and education links in both regions. There may be ways I can support you in your endeavours!

Map showing a sample of UCL collaborations in North and Latin America, by metropolitan areaWhat are the UCL Research Catalyst Awards?

The UCL Research Catalyst Awards, sponsored by Santander Universities, have successfully run since 2011. The scheme has enabled more than 40 visits to Latin American universities to support development of research collaboration.

The purpose of the awards is to foster research collaboration between UCL and key partner universities in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru. The awards are available to cover travel, accommodation and subsistence costs associated with focused visits to potential research collaborators, and are aimed at achieving a specific outcome that will support future research collaboration.

We have recently extended the deadline for this year’s applications to Monday 13 February 2017 at 10am. If you’d like to apply, find out more on GEO’s website.

Why do you think UCL’s partnership with Santander Universities is so successful?

UCL began its partnership with Santander Universities in 2007 and was one of the very first UK universities to become a member of the Santander Universities network. The partnership provides UCL students and staff with numerous benefits and opportunities, ranging from study abroad experiences, to research travel grants for staff, to Masters scholarships for incoming students from Latin America.

The partnership with Santander Universities is a strong one for UCL – this year marks the ten-year anniversary of the relationship, which has gone from strength to strength. Not only does Santander Universities provide funding to UCL, but we also work closely with them on support for student entrepreneurship and on helping students to gain internships in small and medium enterprises to enable them to be better prepared for global careers and lives.

UCL will shortly sign a new partnership agreement with Santander Universities, renewing our strong relationship through to 2019, so watch this space for updates on opportunities for staff and students!

What are you working on at the moment?

One of my big areas of focus right now is developing a potentially important partnership with the University of Toronto (U of T). UCL already has strong collaborative links with U of T in a range of areas including child health, education, big data and cancer research, to name a few. We also have a large undergraduate student exchange programme with them. I am currently working with UCL faculties and U of T, under the leadership of the Vice-Provost (International), to explore other areas in which we might collaborate together. Most specifically right now, we are organising a joint workshop on ‘cities’ at UCL, to discuss research collaboration in this area.

U of T is a similar institution to UCL – located in a global city, similarly placed in world league tables, research intensive and with strong educational underpinnings for our students. We are excited at UCL with the opportunity this developing partnership presents, to enable us to work together to deliver excellence in research that will potentially have global impact while also supporting our students as global citizens.

What benefits would joining the North and Latin America networks bring to UCL academics?

Both networks essentially act as ‘communities of interest’ for UCL academics working on topics related to the region, with partners in the region or from the region. We hold termly meetings to bring academics together to hear about institutional initiatives in these regions, while also providing a forum for academics to network with each other and discuss their work regarding partners from North and Latin America.

We also utilise the networks to share regular region-specific funding opportunities that may be of interest to academics, and we are planning to run some academic led events over the coming months. In fact, it would be wonderful to hear from UCL academics on themes, topics etc. for possible events which colleagues would like to see run via the networks!

Contact Ciaran on:

ciaran.moynihan@ucl.ac.uk
+44 (0)20 3108 7777 / internal 57777

Ask GEO: Rachel Corcoran, Programme Manager

SophieVinter22 September 2016

Rachel Corcoran, Programme ManagerRachel is GEO’s Programme Manager. We asked her to tell us more about her role and the recently launched Global Engagement Funds.

What is your role in GEO?

UCL’s Global Engagement Strategy launched in May last year – it’s an ambitious strategy which sets out a number of objectives: from ramping up the university’s collaborations with institutions abroad, to increasing student mobility and raising UCL’s global profile, to name a few.

As with any strategy, it’s all well and good deciding what you want to achieve, but the more difficult part is in the delivery. In UCL’s case, my office, the GEO, has a team dedicated to partnership development, with much of the other activity actually delivered by lots of other departments across the university – a ‘hub and spoke’ model (see image below), with GEO as the ‘hub’.

As Programme Manager, my role is to be a central point of oversight – to plan, monitor and evaluate success, ensuring that progress against objectives across UCL is captured in one place, identifying areas of overlap between different initiatives and supporting delivery offices where needed.

One part of the strategy which I specifically work on is managing the funding to academics to develop their overseas collaborations – recently I was pleased to launch the second year of the Global Engagement Funds.

The 'Hub and Spoke' model for delivering UCL's Global Engagement StrategyWhat are the Global Engagement Funds for?

Global Engagement Funds cover the costs associated with UCL academics collaborating with higher education institutions, organisations or companies abroad.  The aim is to facilitate activity for which there might not be another funding source, but which could be the start of an exciting new initiative.

There were some fascinating projects last year – I remember there was one from Archaeology, involving a researcher partnering with a Dutch NGO to tackle the black market in looted antiquities from Iraq and Syria, through jointly building a database of such objects. Or the lecturer from the Institute for Global Health who funded travel to Kigali to work with the University of Rwanda on the prevention of gender-based violence – including a joint seminar, meetings with key individuals, and visits to potential field sites, with a view to writing a grant proposal.

I’m not part of the decision-making though – the panels are led by Vice-Deans International (VDIs) and regional Pro-Vice-Provosts (PVPRs).

What is the role of the VDIs and PVPRs in the wider strategy?

The PVPRs play an important strategic role as a catalyst for UCL’s engagement in their particular region. Each term they chair the Regional Network meeting; they welcome international delegations to UCL and act as ambassadors for UCL abroad.

While the PVPRs focus on a specific region spanning all of UCL’s faculties, the role of the VDIs spans all regions in a particular faculty. They are a point of contact for academics and work with the Dean to ensure that the faculty’s global partnerships (e.g. teaching, research, consultancy, knowledge transfer) are in line with the wider strategy.

Map showing UCL activity in Europe as at September 2016How do you think the vote for Brexit has impacted on UCL’s plans for global engagement?

I think that it just shows that it is now more important than ever that UCL remains open and engaged with the world, sending a clear message to our partners (see my colleague Conor’s comments).  As our Vice-Provost (International) says, we are redoubling our efforts to meet those objectives set out in the strategy, especially with regard to Europe, one of the regions where we have a significant amount of activity.

Not only that, but I am excited to be part of reviewing, in the light of the Brexit vote, the way in which we intend to go about achieving objectives.