People: in focus – Dr Effie Konstantinou on student experience
8 September 2016
With the first term of the new academic year approaching, C&PM spoke to Dr Effie Konstantinou, programme leader of MSc Strategic Management of Projects (SMP) to discuss developments on her programme, the student experience, and her advice to new and current students.
What would you like incoming students to know about MSc Strategic Management of Projects (SMP), and how should they prepare?
This year we have designed a very exciting experience for our new and continuing students. We have put all of our knowledge, experience, and inspiration into creating a learning experience which will help them change their careers and, therefore, themselves and their industries, and develop their relationship with UCL. We have kept the parts of what we know how to do best and we have created new initiatives, such as a real time project with the School of Architecture, the SMPJournal, the SMPConference which will take place in July 2017 for the first time, and a two-day session on negotiation and influencing skills with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts for our students.
What are the new areas of the programme that you have been developing?
Every year we identify opportunities as we go along the academic year that create a special and unique experience for every cohort. Our tutors engage the students in the ideas that they are developing in their research. This is the most important part of the learning experience and keeps the students, the tutors and the guest speakers who join the class focused and engaged on the latest and most ground-breaking ideas about projects and their management at the strategic level.
How else will students learn on the SMP programme?
Research and ideas are not only taught, they can also be experienced. So last year, for example, we saw the play WASTE by Harley Barker at the National Theatre. This was a fantastic opportunity for the students to see some of the concepts that we have been talking about in the classroom regarding political environments, and to visualise theoretical concepts in a dramatized format. It also allowed us to bond as a group and see a little bit of London together. Similarly, we also went to the National Portrait Gallery to look for portraits of leaders. Every student was provided with the biographies of four highly influential people that they would see in the Gallery, they studied their biography, and then they had to find portraits of people who signify leadership or power. We discussed the different portraits as a group in the classroom and identified different images of leadership. Our visit to the National Portrait Gallery complemented the theory that was discussed in the class in a new and unique way.
Tell us about the SMPJournal and how it fits into your programme.
This is, again, a new initiative – a journal that will publish the work and ideas of our students. The SMPJournal will be distributed to our guest speakers, alumni, tutors and friends of the programme, and help further develop the community and network of SMP. This is an initiative that is designed to help the students see themselves as researchers. We will end the academic year with the SMPConference that will take place in July 2017 and where students will have the opportunity to talk about their work, engage a wider audience in their thinking and build the SMP community.
These all sound like very innovative methods for making students think about notions of leadership. What else does the programme involve?
The programme is a space where students, tutors and high calibre guest speakers from across industries contribute as equals in a safe and exciting environment, and talk about projects and their management. Indeed, and another thing we do on the programme which is very unique is that we interview guest speakers. During these interviews, the students are able to ask the questions that are most relevant to their learning and professional development. They lead the learning experience, and practice their interviewing skills which are essential for their dissertations at the end of the year.
Thinking about UCL itself, what do you think the University brings to the student experience?
I think the uniqueness of UCL comes from its people and the culture that brings them together. This culture is one of pioneering and ground-breaking research and also equality, which is very well rooted in UCL’s history: it was the first university to accept women and students of all religions. It brings thoughts, perspectives, and ideals that can help transform the societies and the world in which we are all living. So, the most important thing that the students will gain from joining UCL, whether it is SMP, or any other of our programmes, is that they will find themselves in a space where these values are practiced and enacted in relationships. We are geared towards influencing the world around us and changing it, and we develop the intelligence and ethos that is needed to deliver change.
Tell us more about your current day-to-day activities.
As part of the UCL 2034 strategy, there is an explicit focus on further connecting teaching with research. This is the idea of the Connected Curriculum. So I am working on my research on professionalism in project management and reading philosophy to understand how projects can be conceptualised from different perspectives in practice. This is a programme of independent research that I have been working on since I joined the School of Construction and Project Management. It also helps me understand how different streams of research that we are developing in the School can come together to create an executive development experience for the students. In addition, I am constantly trying to develop ways – for example, the SMPConference and the SMPJournal - in which the students can engage as researchers with their tutors, the alumni and the guest speakers who are involved in the programme, in order to better understand and develop unique, evidence-based ideas that can change and improve the practice and professionalisation of project management. This year we will see research becoming an ever more significant part of teaching.
Finally, what advice would you give to students?
There is a lot of change that is happening in the world – globally, in the UK, and locally. This reality is an opportunity for everyone to show their best self. So my advice to the students would be: do your best, inspire and create a world of projects that you would be proud to be a part of!