UCL News


Spotlight on Victoria Spence

10 February 2012

This week the spotlight is on Victoria Spence, Administrator, UCL Constitution Unit, UCL Political Science.

Victoria Spence

What is your role and what does it involve?

I'm the Administrator at the UCL Constitution Unit, the main research centre within the Department of Political Science. Our research covers all aspects of constitutional reform and we currently have projects on the coalition government, judicial independence, freedom of information, House of Lords reform and the policy impact of parliament. The Unit is led by Professor Robert Hazell and Dr Meg Russell.

My role is very diverse and I'm lucky to be involved in such interesting research. There's always something going on, either putting our research out or reacting to political events. We have a new book on the coalition government coming out in the next few months, for which we've had unprecedented access to the PM and DPM's office. We're also writing a guide for academics on how to use freedom of information for research purposes, due out in the summer. But anything could happen politically between now and then and that's what makes the Unit exciting.

Personally I'm responsible for the day-to-day operation of the office, everything from our press work and our internship programme to running the website and organising events. We run a monthly seminar that is open to all and we make a point of keeping the subject matter accessible. We've had speakers of the likes of Ken Clarke, Jack Straw, Sir George Young and Lord Phillips. You can also watch the video afterwards, or listen to the podcast on iTunesU.

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?

Ten years and three incarnations! I used to work in the Biochemistry Department (now Life Sciences) looking after the PhD students and doing a bit of finance. I also did my Masters degree in Classics in the Greek and Latin Department. And now I'm running the office at the Constitution Unit. So I like to think I've had a good all round experience here. In all honesty I feel very privileged to have met so many incredible and inspiring people.

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?

I love new technology and I've brought the Constitution Unit into the 21st century using social media. You can follow the Unit on Twitter @ConUnit_UCL to keep up to date with the latest constitutional developments. You can become friends with Robert Hazell and like us on Facebook, and you can join in the debates by commenting on the Constitution Unit blog. In fact, for other academics out there, our researchers have really taken to our blog as a semi-formal means of expression. It's opened us up to a new demographic and the research councils love it as an impact tool.

All of our research is very practical and we can cite a number of policy influences. Meg Russell's research on procedures within the House of Commons directly led to the establishment of the Backbench Business Committee, whilst Robert Hazell's research into minority and coalition government led to the new Cabinet Manual. We've also influenced the course of devolution and done research that has led to the creation of the Supreme Court and Electoral Commission. It's serious stuff.

What is your life like outside UCL?

All my friends seem to be either musicians or artists so I'm usually at some gig or show or something similar. I'm a big sports fan too, and probably watch much more than I ought to. So I have quite diverse interests.

My more worthy endeavours are with the Prince's Trust, however, for whom I work as a volunteer. I'm a mentor for young people in my local area and my role is to help them get into education, employment or training through six months or so of one-to-one meetings. Actually, most are pretty brilliant anyway and just need a hand to get back on track. I'm currently compiling a guide on cheap East London eateries with one student. Tough work, I know.