UCL Mathematical & Physical Sciences


Professor Nicholas Achilleos

Professor Nicholas Achilleos (UCL Physics & Astronomy) is a Professor of Planetary Physics and MAPS Vice-Dean for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI).

Professor Nicholas Achilleos

2 March 2023

When did you take up this position? What was your position beforehand?

I applied for the Vice-Dean EDI position late last year (2022) and 'properly' made a start on the role during September 2022.

When did you join UCL and where were you before?

I have been at UCL in two 'incarnations'. The first as a postdoctoral researcher 1994 through 1999, and in my current position as a member of academic staff since 2007.

Tell us about your work at UCL - how do you spend your days, and what makes your role different to similar positions elsewhere?

Like most academics at UCL, I shift focus between admin roles, research and teaching. The Vice-Dean EDI role is something very different for me, and it has certainly required me to negotiate a steep learning curve regarding the experiences and aspirations of colleagues at UCL from a great diversity of different backgrounds. 

It has been very encouraging to see the dedication with which a lot of people at UCL involved in EDI approach their roles, and aim to affect real, positive change in workplace culture, as well as their colleagues' experiences and progression - this can sometimes arise in unexpected ways, and other times it can be much slower than one would have anticipated at first.

What are some of your favourite things about working at UCL? How have you found it different to previous jobs?

On the admin/EDI side, I have formed relationships with and learned from some very talented colleagues, many of whom are natural leaders and possess a great deal of insight. 

On the research side, it's always a pleasure to collaborate with students and early-career colleagues on the scientific research which they are pursuing; and encouraging them to play to their strengths and define success on their own terms.

Can you tell us about any upcoming research, or current/future projects that you're looking forward to working? 

My area of research concerns the plasma environments of giant planets such as Jupiter and Saturn. In April 2023, the next mission to Jupiter's magnetosphere, JUICE (JUpiter ICy moon Explorer) will launch. It will arrive at Jupiter in 2031, but many of us in the JUICE science and planning community are already thinking about how to make predictions of what the spacecraft can expect to detect, in terms of the field and particle environment - particularly the environment of Jupiter's moon Ganymede, the prime science target. JUICE will spend its final mission phase as a dedicated orbiter of Ganymede, providing us with the most detailed map ever acquired of the magnetic field surrounding this intriguing icy moon.

On the EDI side, the MAPS EDI Committee have been formulating a set of priority goals for the coming five years or so, you can now view them on the UCL web pages. They broadly fall into the six categories of ‘Converse’ (conversations around structural barriers to respect, inclusion and progression); ‘Embed’ (centring good EDI practice in all areas of work); ‘Improve’ (improve diversity of, and sense of belonging within, the workplace); ‘Student Experience’ (improve and address the awarding/progression gaps associated with, e.g., gender, ethnicity); ‘Gather’ (promote collective responsibility in creating the kind of work environment we want); ‘Share’ (share and reward best practice across departments).

Have you always been based in London? If not, when did you move here, and how did you find adapting to living in London?

I first moved to London in 1994 to take up my PDRA position at UCL. Initially, I found it a very exciting, but quite lonely, experience. Once I had acquired a good network of friends and colleagues, things became much easier. The expense of living in London remains a challenge, particularly at the present time with the increasing cost of living.

Finally, tell us about your non-work life. Do you have any hobbies, or favourite places to go in London?

I enjoy swimming, walking while listening to music, and reading autobiographies, such as Patti Smith’s book ‘Just Kids’ (one of my favourite musical artists). I also learned a great deal from James Baldwin’s ‘The Fire Next Time’. I enjoy good dinners out with friends, and also visiting great art spaces from time to time, such as the Tate Britain and Tate Modern. I'm also a fan of cinema.