UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology


Cassie Hugill

Cassandra Hugill International Womens Day


Can you give us an overview of your current position and explain what was your career path to this role?       

I head up both Public Engagement and Diversity & Inclusion at the Wellcome Centre for Human Neuroimaging, UCL. Starting out as a researcher in plant genetics, I realised that while I had a passion for research, I preferred engaging with others more than being behind the lab bench. I started to do more outreach activities alongside my research before leaving research entirely to do a Masters in Science Communication at the Australian National University. Three days after finishing the course, I was on a one way ticket to the UK.

I have been at UCL for 4 years now, and during this time my role has evolved and grown from the original Public Engagement Coordinator role. In 2019 I took on the additional responsibility of Diversity and Inclusion Officer. This part of my role has grown substantially alongside the public engagement, with the launch of a social mobility programme In2research in 2020, a programme I co-founded with In2scienceUK.

I now manage two fantastic teams of people; Public Engagement and the ever-growing In2research team in partnership with In2scienceUK.

My career path has been largely driven by what I am passionate about and my values. I would not have seen myself in either of these roles when I was at University but I am so happy to have such an incredible and varied job now.

Link to public engagement work: https://engagement.fil.ion.ucl.ac.uk/

Can you tell us about a piece of work that you are particularly proud of?            

It’s tough to choose one project as I am very proud of what we have achieved over the past four years but I would have to say In2research. In2research is a year-long development and mentorship programme that supports people from disadvantaged backgrounds to access postgraduate study. The programme provides online webinars, professional development days, subject specific mentoring and a paid 8-week summer research placement at London living wage. Once graduated, participants join our growing alumni community as we continue to support them in their career goals.

When I first started at UCL I wanted to find a programme that supported marginalised undergraduate (and graduated) students to access postgraduate study, as we are a research centre and do not do much teaching. I was surprised to find that there wasn’t one. I had been working with In2scienceUK for a while and approached the current CEO, Rebecca McKelvey, proposing a partnership. Working with In2scienceUK has been an incredible process and we are proud to say we have brought in over £1M in funding to grow In2research into a national programme over the coming years. This year we have expanded beyond UCL to University of Cambridge and are delighted to have City, University of London joining us in the next academic year.  

A particular point of pride in the programme for me is the work around research culture. As part of participation, all mentors and supervisors undertake race and cultural literacy training delivered by our expert partners Leading Routes and UPSIGN. We strongly believe that it is not just about supporting people to access academic careers but to change the environment that those people are coming into so that they feel a sense of belonging and desire to stay. Read more here: https://in2scienceuk.org/in2research/

This year’s theme for international women’s day is “Break the Bias”. What bias would you like to break? 

I would like to break the bias that researchers are a certain type of person. Research is diverse and the people in it need to be as well! The more we recognise this the better off we will be.

It’s a cliché but use your voice. I was always so worried that my voice was not enough, it was not worth anything and that others have better, more clever things to say. Over the years I have realised that when I have spoken up, others are thinking the same thing or I am providing useful and constructive things to the conversation! So often as women we are taught to be seen and not heard, but we have a voice and it needs to be heard more.

Who is a female role model to you? Why? 

I have been very privileged to have a number of female role models in my life. I admire the work of Michelle Obama, always so calm and measured, but to be honest, it is the women I work with every day who inspire me. Dr Rebecca McKelvey, founder of In2scienceUK & co-founder of In2research, started the national charity on her laptop during her PhD at UCL. Dr Rebecca Lindner, Associate Professor for the Doctoral School, is always thoughtfully considering the voice of those not heard and has such a wealth of knowledge from working across several countries and programmes in her time. Our Centre Director, Prof Cathy Price always leads with kindness, compassion and a strong sense of collaboration. She will listen to your thoughts no matter who you are and that fosters a working environment that I am proud to be a part of.  

Do you feel you have a good work / life balance? Why?    

Depends on the week! Work/life balance is something that I constantly have to work at and I strongly believe this will never change. I am very passionate about what I do and if I let it, it can consume every aspect of my life. But I have come to realise that taking time out for my friends, family and myself means that I can do my job better and I am all the more happier for it.

What is your favourite thing to do in your spare time? 

I love to go on a long hike in the countryside. I am never as happy as I am out in nature listening to the birds and enjoying being away from the buzz of modern life.