The Bartlett School of Sustainable Construction


People: in focus - Professor Michelle Baddeley, new Director of School, on the future of C&PM

30 September 2016


From the beginning of October, Professor Michelle Baddeley will be Director of the Bartlett School of Construction and Project Management. She takes over from Professor Andrew Edkins, who has served the role for over four years. We spoke to Michelle about the future of the School, her research, and advice to prospective students.

Since joining C&PM, how have you seen the School change, and what challenges must it now overcome?

I joined the School three years ago, towards the beginning of Professor Andrew Edkins’ tenure as Director of School. Andrew has done a great job and has given himself wholeheartedly to the role. The School has grown enormously over his Directorship.

Before I joined C&PM, the School was formed by amalgamating a couple of different departments from across The Bartlett. After this occurred, there was fairly rapid growth in student numbers at C&PM. Simultaneously, there was quite a rapid growth in staff numbers, but this didn’t quite keep pace with the student numbers. So one challenge is to deal with this and make sure that the decision-making structures and resources are in place to manage all the activity that is taking place.

Rapid growth in student numbers has meant that C&PM is in a good financial position, so how can this be used to improve the student experience?

The school is very successful in terms of raising money – it is one of the biggest teaching revenue raisers in UCL. Now, we have to make sure that we are spending the right amount of money to ensure that we are able to continue to deliver excellent courses that are properly resourced. We also need to make sure that our staff aren’t overburdened by the workload.

The other point is that, over the past three to four years, there has been far more interest in research. So, it would be good to get some more substantial research grants coming through and to combine research. For example, some of my research is a collaboration with Dr Chen-Yu Chang, Dr Vedran Zerjav and Dr Grant Mills. Together we are looking at ways in which infrastructure clients, in particular Anglian Water, can improve their project and programme management - this collaboration embraces the range of research themes across the School. It would be good now to see more of these multidisciplinary collaborations - to see the project managers, the economists, and the finance experts coming together more often for research.

How might collaboration across departments and universities be developed?

I do a lot of multidisciplinary work. For example, I have worked with The Department of Computer Science and the Energy Institute at UCL, and with behavioural economists around the world, as well as consolidating my previous research connections developed during my time at Cambridge University. It would be really good to get more multidisciplinary research happening across the School, and also by developing collaborations across The Bartlett and UCL more widely. In recent years, we have been lucky in attracting a dynamic group of new recruits - who bring with them their own their connections and networks. We are also developing networks with business organisations, notably the Infrastructure Client Group – which includes organisations such as Anglian Water, TfL and London Underground, UK Power Networks, Highways England and the Environment Agency – all of whom are keen to leverage our expertise in improving their operations.

I’d also be keen to see us consolidate our alumni networks. I was in Mexico recently for a Bartlett trip and met many graduates from The Bartlett, including one MSc Project and Enterprise Management graduate who was very positive and complimentary about all she had gained whilst studying with us – and she was very keen to keep the connections going. Hopefully we will develop some executive education initiatives with her company and others in Mexico. Along with our strong Chinese networks, it would be good to see our international network developing in Mexico and beyond.

Turning to your current research, what have you been involved with?

I am currently pursuing two large projects. The first is with the Office for National Statistics, - helping their National Accounts team with the development of innovative construction statistics, and in improving their existing statistical methodologies. Construction is a complex industry so construction statistics are notoriously difficult to gather, though new developments in Big Data and computational modelling may help to fill some gaps. Our new lecturer Dr Xuxin Mao is leading this work and he brings a lot of expertise in computational modelling, text analytics and Big Data – all of which have useful applications in the measurement of construction.

The other is a project with Anglian Water on understanding information and collaboration within their supply chains – which links to the Infrastructure Client Group initiatives I mentioned before. We are applying some insights from information economics, game theory, and behavioural economics to help them improve their supply chain efficiency. It also links up with a complementary project with Grant Mills and Chen-Yu Chang, who are exploring project performance across a number of infrastructure organisations.

It’s great to see that C&PM is examining current practices and contributing recommendations to industries, and also using this knowledge in your teaching.

Yes, and that is particularly what the Anglian Water research is all about – showing how there are many powerful insights from economics, especially from behavioural economics and information economics, that are useful to businesses in their everyday activities. Economics has a bad (and unfair) reputation these days for being too esoteric and technical – but my experience has been the opposite. The businesses I talk to are enthused by a range of ideas from economics that have relevance for their businesses. We are taking some of these insights to our students too – and our business experience makes good examples to include in teaching, for example in the MSc Project and Enterprise Management module “Projects, Economics and Behaviour”. It is always gratifying to hear from students too - about how much they enjoy the economics that they learn as part of this module, especially the behavioural economics. A lot of them are bringing it to their dissertations – around eight or so of the MSc dissertations I supervised this year covered some concepts from behavioural economics, applied to the analysis of real-world commercial problems.

In addition to this, what other research areas are you interested in?

I do a lot of work on energy and the environment, particularly household decision-making around energy consumption – in the UK, and we’re also developing some projects examining these themes in sub-Saharan Africa. I work with computer scientists on cyber security, and this is a novel theme –relevant for the development ICT infrastructure. I also do a lot of work on herding and social influence, applied across a range of themes. My research background is in applied macroeconomics and behavioural economics - and my dream would be to combine the two into a coherent behavioural macroeconomic theory. This can link to construction too because the feedbacks between construction and the macroeconomy are fascinating and important for all of us.

What would you advise to research students who want to study here?

Make sure that the course fits your needs and interests well. Sometimes, there might be a temptation to come to UCL just for the sake of coming to UCL and you do need a deeper reason than that. Our courses are great for anyone who wants a career in construction or management, so they suit people on that specific career path. Get to know the programme well before you apply, especially as you’ll have to choose your optional modules early in the year. You need to be keen and enthusiastic because it’s hard work! For PhD students interested in applying, you should prepare well and make contacts with potential supervisors to get guidance about drafting your research proposal and application. There is a lot of groundwork to do before you submit your application. We do have some PhD applicants who go straight in and apply without liaising with potential supervisors beforehand, and their chances are not so good consequently. Get to know the course well, including the various modules, and see if you find it interesting. Finally, talk to former students and programme leaders, who are very approachable and can give some good advice about whether or not the programmes we offer will match your interests and career needs.

We look forward to working with Michelle in her new role as Director of School.