Spotlight on... Dr James Paskins

This week we meet Dr James Paskins, Deputy Director for UCL’s Grand Challenges programme, who chats to us about responding to the challenges set by the UN Sustainable Development Goals and planning a follow up conference to ’Beyond Boundaries: Realising the UN SDGs’.

What is your role and what does it involve?

I am Deputy Director for UCL’s Grand Challenges programme. The idea behind the Grand Challenges is that the world’s problems are often very complex and rarely fall into a single academic discipline. At UCL we are lucky enough to have some of the foremost experts on a huge range of subjects and our team exists to bring them together to work on new ways to solve society’s problems.  

We have six big themes: ’Global Health’, ’Sustainable Cities’, ’Human Wellbeing’, ’Cultural Understanding’, ’Justice & Equality’ and ’Transformative Technology’.

One of the best parts of my role is working with some really inspirational people. I am constantly amazed by how many people there are at UCL who want to use their knowledge and experience to improve the world, and who manage to find the time in their busy lives to work with us.

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?

I joined UCL in 2001 and I have had a few previous roles. Immediately before joining the Grand Challenges team I was managing a project which was bridging the gaps between researchers in the BEAMS school at UCL by funding interdisciplinary projects. Before that I worked as a researcher on a range of projects, including one about children’s physical activity.

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?

I am still proudest of managing to finish a part-time PhD whilst working at UCL and starting a family.

Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list?

One of our priorities at the moment is responding to the challenges set by the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Together with colleagues in the UCL Global Engagement Office, we held a COVID-safe, virtual conference at the end of last year, Beyond Boundaries: Realising the UN SDGs, with contributions from around the world. We are just about to announce the successful projects from our ’UN SDGs: Pathways to Achievement’ call and we are planning a follow-up conference.

What is your favourite album, film and novel?

It is very difficult to choose favourites, but I keep coming back to the album Pleased to Meet You by James, the film Brazil by Terry Gilliam and the book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.

What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?

There is a quote I love from Bob Monkhouse: "People used to laugh at me when I said I wanted to be a comedian. Well, they’re not laughing now."

Who would be your dream dinner guests?

Another tough one, I think it would be fun to meet Tim Minchin, Nicola Benedetti, Roger Moore, Audrey Hepburn and George Lucas. I’m not sure if they would get on and two of them are dead, so it might be a disaster.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Make time to travel and read.

What would it surprise people to know about you?

I have degrees in Physics and Psychology, so maybe I was always destined to work on cross-disciplinary research. 

What is your favourite place?

I went on honeymoon to New York and we have been back since with our children, so it has a special place in my heart.

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