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Spotlight on... Lu Gram

1 October 2020

This week we meet Lu Gram – Sir Henry Wellcome post-doctoral research fellow at the Institute for Global Health – who chats to us about working on an upcoming Lancet Series and co-founding campaign group End the Virus of Racism.

Lu Gram

What is your role and what does it involve?

I am a Sir Henry Wellcome post-doctoral research fellow at the Institute for Global Health. I study ways in which communities can be mobilised to take action against violence against women in Mumbai, India. Currently, I am also writing for an upcoming Lancet Series on the impacts of racism and xenophobia on health. Pre-COVID-19, my work also involved living in India for a third of the year. I also teach and serve on the departmental Race & Equalities committee.

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

I came to UCL in 2013 to do my PhD, studying women’s empowerment in rural Nepal. Before that, I worked with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the World Health Organization on large-scale research projects in Ghana, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya and Uganda. The projects evaluated methods for preventing childhood diseases affecting millions of children every year.

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?

Obtaining the Sir Henry Wellcome fellowship. It was the product of nearly six years of concerted planning, thinking, writing, failing, and then starting all over again until we finally got it right. It involves an interdisciplinary collaboration between public health researchers, behavioural economists, and social anthropologists to uncover when and why grassroots community initiatives to tackle entrenched societal drivers of poor health succeed or fail.

Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list?

Due to COVID-19, hate crimes against people of East and Southeast Asian heritage increased threefold in January to March this year. A UCL student was attacked earlier in the year, and police figures indicate this continues to be a problem. I have raised this issue with The Guardian and Yahoo News. I am co-founder of a campaign group called End the Virus of Racism, which seeks to become the first UK non-profit dedicated to addressing racism and xenophobia towards East and Southeast Asians.

What is your favourite album, film and novel?

Album: I usually find clips on Youtube. I love Sheku Kanneh-Mason’s performance of Shostakovich Cello Concerto no. 1 – the first Black musician ever to win the BBC Young Musician award. Shostakovich references Nazi and Soviet totalitarianism in his music often, a topic that resonates deeply with me in contemporary political times.

Film: 3 Idiots.

Novel: The Power by Naomi Alderman – a thought-provoking political sci-fi dissecting notions of power, oppression and gender inequality. It imagines what would happen if women suddenly gained the power to rule the world. My second-most favourite would be the Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin, which analyses racial inequality.

What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?

From #AcademicTwitter:

How to find manuscript typos:
1. Click submit

Who would be your dream dinner guests?

Just my partner, friends and family, so I don’t have to talk about work.

What advice would you give your younger self?

An undergraduate degree does not set in stone your future career.

What would it surprise people to know about you?

I used to play classical piano to a high standard, winning scholarships, national contests, and university-wide contests at places like Oxford University. East and Southeast Asians are often stereotyped in mass media as robotic maths nerds. In my early years, playing music helped me to prove to others that I too had a soul, could feel pain, and had an inner life.

What is your favourite place?

Izumi in Mumbai – best Japanese food I have ever had.