Developing New Methods to Study Thermal Perception
By Guest Blogger, on 3 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.
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.
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.
The methods developed in this project will allow us to study temperature perception in new ways. Right now, scientists do not understand well how perception of temperature changes with tactile inputs. In particular, spatial and temporal projections are poorly understood because of the use of tactile thermal stimulators. The results of our CpP project and other experiments will allow us to develop computational models of how the brain builds thermal perception. Excitingly, these developments will inform the development of new technologies such as thermal displays for use in gaming, robotics and remote sensing devices.
Youth Engagement at 146th Executive Board Meeting of the World Health Organization
By Guest Blogger, on 13 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
By Guest Blogger, on 5 March 2020
Daniyal 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.
Global readership of UCL articles in The Conversation
By Sophie Vinter, on 24 January 2020
UCL articles have a phenomenal global reach – that’s the upshot of new statistics released by The Conversation, which show the countries in which UCL articles are most widely-read, as well as the number of readers.
As the data above shows, in 2019 well over a million and a half UCL articles in The Conversation were read by US-based readers, followed by over half a million article views in the U.K. and Australia. We also have an impressive spread of readers around the globe, from our European neighbours to Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.
Top articles by UCL academics from 2019-20 include Mark Maslin’s ‘Five climate change science misconceptions – debunked’, which looks at the truth behind beliefs including ‘climate change is just part of the natural cycle’ and ‘changes are due to sunspots/galactic cosmic rays’.
Mark Maslin is the Professor of Climatology at UCL, and this article got over 220,000 views after it was published in September 2019.
Professor Maslin’s article ‘The five corrupt pillars of climate change denial‘ was the second most-read UCL article at The Conversation between 2019-20, after it came out in November 2019.
With just under 200,000 views, this article takes an in-depth look at climate lobbying, and how the fossil fuel industry, political lobbyists and media moguls have spent the past 30 years sowing doubts about the reality of climate change.
Another highly popular article from UCL academics in The Conversation is ‘We accidentally created a new wonder material that could revolutionise batteries and electronics’, written by Chris Howard, Associate Professor in Materials Physics at UCL, and Mitch Watts, a PhD student at UCL.
Looking at the unexpected creation of how phosphorene nanoribbons at UCL, this article garnered 167,000 views after it was published in April 2019.
Climate change was by far the most popular subject for UCL articles in The Conversation between 2019-20, with one article, ‘4°C of global warming is optimal – even Nobel Prize winners are getting things catastrophically wrong‘ by Steve Keen, honorary Professor of Economics at UCL, attracting a global readership of just under 95,000.
Ask an Academic: Deenan Pillay
By Sophie Vinter, on 22 January 2020
Deenan Pillay, Professor of Virology at UCL Division of Infection and Immunity, is preparing to begin his three-year term as UCL Pro-Vice-Provost International (PVPI), succeeding Professor Dame Hazel Genn.
The PVPI provides engaging, inspirational and strategic academic leadership for UCL’s networks of Regional Pro-Vice-Provosts and Vice-Deans International.
Until recently, Deenan was also seconded from UCL as Director of the Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI), where he focused on clinical, population and laboratory-based studies to limit the spread of HIV.
Please can you give us a brief overview of what the Africa Health Research Institute does?
AHRI is a 600-strong research institute in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa focusing on HIV, TB and related diseases. One of its key characteristics is its work across disciplines from heath systems and behaviour through to molecular biology. It has two campuses, one in rural northern KZN based around a population surveillance infrastructure, and another laboratory base 3 hours drive south, at the Nelson Mandela School of Medicine in Durban. The major funding stream is from the Wellcome Trust, as one of the WT Africa and Asia Programmes, which is more than doubled through external grant income, leading to a total annual research budget of around 15 million pounds.
How did your own research interests align with AHRI?
My interest in HIV started in 1988, when I started my clinical specialisation in Virology. HIV had recently been identified as the cause of AIDS, and there was immense pressure to develop antiretroviral drugs. I undertook a Fellowship in 1993 to study how the virus becomes resistant to these drugs. Despite this major limitation of the early generation of therapy, I was fortunate to witness firsthand, during the 1990s and 2000s, the translational pathway from early compound screening, through development, to trials and implementation – with a profound impact in changing a death sentence to a chronic disease management paradigm. However, whilst this model of drug development may work in the resource-rich world, it is an inadequate global response. My move to South Africa some 30 years later was a reflection of this inequality, and the challenges provided by trying to implement interventions in a setting of 30% prevalence of infection and with limited resource. My research had by now extended to HIV transmission, and I am proud of the work we undertook to understand how best to reduce new infections at scale. I am pleased that the most recent AHRI data shows a reduction in new infections in rural KZN.
What were the challenges of being Director of AHRI?
There were two main challenges. Firstly, AHRI represents a merger of two research organisations, differing in geography, culture, research disciplines, and ethos, despite both having a focus on HIV and TB research. AHRI was formed in 2016, and so the development of a single mission remains an ongoing process. Secondly, and relatedly, is the development of cross-disciplinary research towards our goals of reducing HIV and TB morbidity and mortality. Much is written about how the major solutions to global problems will require cross-disciplinary approaches – this is more difficult in practice!
How is UCL engaged in AHRI?
AHRI is an independent research institute, with a board to which the Director is accountable. UCL has a seat on that board, and is an important stakeholder. Indeed, the Wellcome Trust grant to AHRI is via UCL, and therefore UCL is held responsible by the WT for overall academic performance and governance. UCL also employs the Director and a number of other Faculty members. Having said that, there are other stakeholders, including the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and a strong push for AHRI to be a truly South African research institute, and growing local capacity. In keeping with the UCL ethos of global engagement, future collaboration will be far more likely based around researchers being based full-time at AHRI, than the old colonial model of samples and data flowing from South Africa for analysis in London! I would encourage UCL staff and students interested in working with AHRI to speak to the new Director, Professor Willem Hanekom.
You’ve recently been appointed as Pro-Vice-Provost (International) at UCL’s Global Engagement Office. What are you most looking forward to about this role?
UCL has an increasingly important global role. Firstly, to create students who are comfortable as global citizens. And secondly to bring expertise to bear on the key issues of global importance. I am looking forward to contributing to the vision of ‘London’s Global University’, and getting a better sense of the huge wealth of impactful research and teaching across our campuses.
Find out more:
Exhibition: UCL IOE Confucius Institute Young Photographers’ Competition
By Guest Blogger, on 21 January 2020
By Yasmin Lambert
The winning entries from this year’s UCL IOE Confucius Institute Young Photographers’ Competition will soon be available to view during upcoming exhibitions at UCL.
The Young Photographers’ Competition is open to people aged 18 years and under, run by the UCL IOE Confucius Institute for Schools (IOE CI) and supported by the Chinese Embassy.
Its aims are to dispel the cultural stereotypes of China through photography, to show the country through the eyes of young people, and to encourage young people to explore their relationship with China and Chinese culture.
The IOE CI offers support to UK schools so they can both teach Mandarin Chinese and learn about China. It also oversees international school partnerships, supports curriculum development, develops teaching resources, undertakes research, runs annual student camps to China and works with awarding bodies on accreditation.
In 2019, the competition featured five China-related categories that could be interpreted in different ways. Four of the five categories included photographs that had been taken in China and the fifth category was for photos with a Chinese theme that had been taken in the UK:
- China in colour (Portfolio)
- China and her food
- China at home (UK-based)
- The people of China
- Young China (Under 14)
The majority of entries came from school students in the UK and feature photographs that the students had taken on school trips or holidays to China. As ever, entries were of a very high standard and it was fascinating to see how the students had interpreted the category titles.
After much deliberation, the judging panel shortlisted four entries for each category (1st, 2nd, 3rd and Highly Commended), and the winners were announced just before the Christmas break.
To celebrate the amazing quality of the photographs and the success of the competition, all 36 of the winning entries will be on display – first at the Chinese Embassy on 24 January to celebrate Chinese New Year – and then open to the public at UCL.
3–21 February 2020
- UCL North Cloisters, Wilkins Building, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT
- 10:00-18:00 Monday – Sunday
- Cost: Free
1-22 May 2020
- UCL South Cloisters, Wilkins Building, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT
- 10:00-18:00 Monday – Sunday
- Cost: Free
China in colour (Portfolio)
Amrit Chahil, Age = 13
China and her food
Henry Yue, Age = 16
China at home (UK-based)
Sofia Millington Gomez, Age = 12
The people of China
Becky Gillan, Age = 17
Young China (Under 14)
Julian Castro, Age = 14
Q&A with UCL-PKU MBA graduate Xiaojing Wang
By Sophie Vinter, on 22 November 2019
Xiaojing 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.
Visit from Zheijiang University moves an important archaeological collaboration forward
By Sophie Vinter, on 22 November 2019
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.
Ask an Academic: Aimee Spector
By Sophie Vinter, on 21 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
UCL explores opportunities for collaboration in the Arab World
By ucqqsdu, on 15 November 2019
On 7 November 2019, the event ‘UCL in the Arab World: Collaboration, Experiences and Opportunities’ was held in UCL’s Bentham House, for a full day of presentations and reflections on what it means to work in the MENA and the possibilities and challenges for existing and future collaborations.
UCL and partner experts got together for this event to explore three main themes: “Research, Innovation and Impact”, “Collaboration, Partnership and Delivery”, and “Trends and Opportunities”. Find out more about the sessions and the delegates’ experiences below.
Emerging Trends, Themes and Opportunities
Prof Nora Colton (Pro-Vice-Provost, Postgraduate Education, UCL) chaired a session exploring some of the opportunities in the region that exist against a challenging background. Michael Stephens (Research Fellow for Middle East Studies, RUSI), Dr Neil Quilliam (Associate Fellow, Middle East and North Africa Programme, Chatham House), Dr Sam Evans (Director, Global Engagement Office and UCL Qatar) and John Shaw (Associate Partner, Cushman and Wakefield) took part in the panel discussion.
Critical thinking can be a challenge in teaching in several countries in the MENA region – there has been a government push back on free access to information following the Arab Spring. On the other hand, collaborations in the area can lead to students developing an interest in undertaking education in foreign universities, in particular in Europe, especially in places with some vicinity to their home countries, or for delivery in-county, with a particular interest from women.
Social, political and ethical aspects of working with certain countries should be brought into the thinking about why we want to establish a partnership for transnational education projects. Making the relationship strong and fruitful will take a long commitment, possibly decades, and it will be necessary to be clear with the client about the red lines that we will not cross and the objectives and the method of collaboration.
Collaboration, Partnership and Delivery: A Recipe for Success
“Useful information and practical tips from colleagues who have wide experience in the region.”
The session was chaired by Prof Sara Mole (Professor of Molecular Cell Biology, Group Leader, Laboratory for Molecular Cell Biology, UCL) and explored some of the practical considerations on working in the region and establishing successful overseas collaborations. Hannah Balogun (Director of Human Resources, UCL Qatar), Kevin Coutinho (Athena SWAN Manager, Equality Diversity and Inclusion Team, UCL), Jonathan Dale (Director of International Leadership Development, Institute of Education), Alex Hall (Legal Counsel, UCL), Richard Homer (Head of Global Mobility, UCL), Jack Lightle (Acting Head of Student & Academic Services, UCL Qatar), John-George Nicholson (Business Manager, MSEC) were part of the panel discussion.
The need to conduct a thorough due diligence process before establishing any partnership was discussed at length, as well as the need to involve all key stakeholders and identify contacts who will facilitate operations and who are the right signatory for agreements. Stakeholder management is a key activity to take care of, since much of the success of these overseas projects is based on developing mutual trust in the relationship, a real interest from the stakeholder and a genuine interest from the provider.
Values and ethics were brought into the conversation: if we want to establish a fruitful dialogue it is necessary to distance ourselves from our own concept of values and ethics and look at it from the destination countries’ point of view. It is necessary to take into consideration what choices people need to make, and be aware of both cultures’ sensitivities. In the words of Kevin Coutinho, “in order for dialogue and successful relationships, we need to understand the perspectives that people come to us with, and we have to challenge ourselves to listen.”
Research, Innovation and Impact: Exploring UCL’s Regional Contribution
“Excellent case studies… great opportunity to network. Valuable information and insights into societal change in Qatar.”
Dr Ian Scott (Director, Grand Challenges and Cross-Disciplinary Development, UCL) moderated session three, which provided an insight into some of the research projects UCL is delivering and their impact within the region. Prof Murray Fraser (Professor of Architecture and Global Culture, Bartlett), Prof George Grimble (Principle Teaching Fellow, UCL Division of Medicine), Prof Dina D’Ayala (Professor of Structural Engineering, Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering), Dr Georgios Papaioannou (Associate Professor, Museum Studies, UCL Qatar) presented some of their projects.
How do we ensure impact and sustain this when the research itself is completed? Depositories of datasets and ground-breaking collaborative projects with local organisations play a big part in ensuring there is ongoing impact locally; for example the UCL Qatar – Qatar Museums, Cultural Heritage Law Project will create a law in Cultural Heritage for Qatar to facilitate protection and promotion of the local cultural heritage for the years to come. The continuation of collaborative professional education programmes and research projects will also leave a lasting footprint behind.
Dr Grimble provided a case study demonstrating the impact, over a number of years, of graduates from UCL’s Masters in Nutrition programme and the lasting impact of this in the region and elsewhere.
UCL alumni in the region and elsewhere are a living legacy of UCL’s teaching and research initiatives.
It was suggested that establishing UCL centres of innovation in the region would be a good initiative for capacity development. This could be achieved with well-organised and well-taught distance learning activities, as well as by establishing research clusters.
Realising Our Global Opportunities: Case Studies with International Application
“[The event] challenged UCL thinking and considered what we could learn.”
Roger de Montford (Managing Director, UCL Consultants) chaired the last session, which drew on the outcomes from the day and explored emerging global opportunities and the approach to these, with the presentation of case studies from MENA with international application. Dr Sam Evans, John-George Nicholson, Prof Norbert Pachler (Pro-Director: Teaching, Quality and Learning Innovation, UCL Institute of Education) and John Richards (Associate Partner, Cushman & Wakefield) presented their case studies.
Traditionally, international enterprise activities fall within the academics’ remit. The case studies presented showed that this can be challenging and demonstrated the importance of having a dedicated person to progress business development and enterprise activities – a person who needs to have the skills to identify a market and opportunities, deal with all the aspects of its development and establish proper relationships with local stakeholders.
Sam Evans and Norbert Pachler introduced a pilot project and the results from recent market research which showed that there is appetite across the region for establishing educational partnerships in several disciplines, Medicine, Engineering and Cultural Heritage in particular. However, it was not easy to understand how to tap into this, and whether there was an existing pool of students and research opportunities or if this needed to be created. UCL’s existing relationships in the region were also not clear which suggested the need for a thorough audit of existing UCL ventures there, in order to examine the relationship between them and possibly build on both existing skills and the strategic needs.
The day offered many angles on the different questions analysed and a rich pool of considerations, creating the basis for a continued dialogue in an area of mutual interest among the different parties involved in the event.
You can find snippets of the event on UCL Qatar’s twitter feed here