This week we meet Professor Lasana Harris, who was recently appointed Vice Dean International in the Faculty of Brain Sciences. Here, he chats to us about growing up in Trinidad and his upcoming book on anthropomorphism.
What is your role and what does it involve?
I am a Professor of Social Neuroscience in Experimental Psychology, and have recently been appointed the Vice Dean International in the Faculty of Brain Sciences. As Vice Dean, I am responsible for overseeing global engagement with the Faculty. This includes our international students and staff, global academic and corporate partnerships, research funding from international organisations, and research by FBS staff and students around the world.
How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?
I have been at UCL for the past six years. I previously served as the BME Academic Lead and the Racial Equity lead in the Faculty of Brain Sciences and the PALS Coordinator for the Behavioural Insights Exchange (BiX) Programme. Before that, I worked at universities in the Netherlands and United States.
What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?
I can’t name just one. I am most proud of the changes we have made to the undergraduate curriculum at the Faculty, incorporating the science of bias as a compulsory offering for all students. This module provides them the latest scientific research in neuroscience, genetics, and psychology relevant to race, gender, sexual orientation, identity and disability. I am also proud of the increased funding now available for doctoral study in the Faculty, and the support we have provided for research experience programmes for undergraduate and secondary school students from Black British backgrounds.
Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list?
I am currently on sabbatical writing a book on anthropomorphism - how we bring things to life. I am spending my time at the Institute of Philosophy at SOAS and the Turing Institute to be around people with interesting things to say about this topic.
What is your favourite album, film and novel?
Music is hard for me because I love music - and so many genres of music - so I can’t pick one album, but I love all of the following and many more: Humanz by Gorillaz, Torches by Foster the People, Babylon by Bus by Bob Marley and the Wailers, Magical Mystery Tour by the Beatles, Sweet Sweet Dreams by the Mighty Shadow, Californication by the Red Hott Chili Peppers, Still Dre. By Dr. Dre... I could keep going.
Films and books are easier: Pulp Fiction and Miguel Street respectively.
What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?
I hate stale jokes and puns. I prefer stand-up comedy and sitcoms. Dave Chappelle is the reigning king of comedy.
Who would be your dream dinner guests?
Dead or alive? Michele and Barack Obama of course. And deceased: Marcus Garvey, Oliver Cromwell Cox, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Franz Fanon; the debates we would have...
What advice would you give your younger self?
Keep doing you.
What would it surprise people to know about you?
As a teenager in Trinidad, where I grew up, I wrote for the local newspaper and covered youth culture. So I got to cover every concert that came through the island and interviewed all sorts of people, including DMX, Lauren Hill and the Fugees, Stone Love, Busta Rhymes, Faith Evans, Beenie Man, Bounty Killa - a who’s-who of Caribbean and American Black culture in the 1990s.
What is your favourite place?
Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman. Or any beach in the Caribbean really.