UCL News


Seven Questions with... Phin Godfrey

25 November 2022

This week, UCL student Phin – who is currently working as an economist at the Department for Transport – chats to us about living in Hong Kong, his favorite bookstores, and getting involved in the Laidlaw Research and Leadership Programme at UCL.

UCL student Phin

What are you studying, why are you interested in this subject and what do you plan to do in the future?

I study Economics with a Placement Year, and am currently on my placement working as an economist at the Department for Transport.

I got into economics because of how much of the world seems to be driven by economic forces, and how many different niches and interdisciplinary links there are to study. A good, critical understanding of the different perspectives in the discipline gives you a well-equipped toolbox to understand problems and try to solve them.

In my opinion, the most important of these problems is climate change – so I’d like to apply my economics knowledge in the future to trying to solve it, whether through helping design policy to support green innovation, or pushing people and businesses to act more sustainably. However, I’m also very interested in many economic issues like how to reform housing and financial systems to work better for society, or how businesses can be structured in the interests of all their stakeholders.

What is the most interesting thing you’ve done, seen or got involved with while at UCL?

The Laidlaw Research and Leadership Programme definitely ranks up there – it was a really great experience not only to get up close with academic research, but also to meet some amazing other students and hear about their work in subjects very different to my own.

I also have to mention the time I spent working for the economics department student magazine, The Economic Tribune, and setting up its spinoff undergraduate journal, the UCL Journal of Economics. Working with a fantastic team, seeing authors and faculty engage and support us, getting my hands on a printed copy after almost 18 months of work, and now seeing its new leaders take it forward and improve it has been a key highlight of my time at UCL.

Have you discovered any hidden gems during your time at UCL?

I’d say checking out as many different libraries as possible, especially now the Student Centre seems to be full 24/7. At the Archaeology Library you get plants, which is lovely. Senate House membership is free for University of London students and gets you access to a sexy art-deco building with decent views from higher up. I’ve heard SOAS library is also nice but yet to confirm it myself.

Give us your top three things to do/see/go to in London:

In no particular order:

  • Walking around an area you’ve not seen before, checking out pubs and cafés while you’re at it (current favourites include Hampstead, Hackney, Little Venice, and Notting Hill)
  • Bookshops. Campus' Waterstones and Daunt Books are solid but fairly obvious picks. Judd Books and Skoob Books near campus are also great, and Waterloo Book Market near South Bank too.
  • Parks – it's making me miss summer just thinking about it, but walking, reading, picnicking and a touch of day-drinking in London parks is the best thing once its warm enough. Hampstead Heath is a must.

What’s one thing you’d like to see in a post-COVID world?

One thing I would like to see is the same ability, energy, and flexibility society proved it has by transforming itself to slow the spread of COVID and rapidly develop vaccines is applied to other urgent problems like climate change. If governments were willing to impose lockdowns and roll out billions of pounds of support then why can’t we come close to matching that level of action for other problems.

An honourable mention also goes remote/hybrid working. Doing my placement year this year, I’ve realised how much easier working from home makes it to balance life and work when you don’t have to commute for hours every day and can sneak off to get household chores out of the way during the day instead of cramming them into the evenings and having no time to socialise, so I definitely hope this stays.

Who inspires you and why?

Two big sources of inspiration for me would be each of my grandmas. My grandma on my dad’s side championed women’s rights throughout her life, and stubbornly confronted authority figures who challenged her. Talking to her growing up showed me the importance of standing up for what you believe is right. My grandma on my mum’s side was probably the kindest person I’ve ever met and always kept a strong social circle. She showed me the importance of being hospitable and always being there for the people close to you.

What would it surprise people to know about you?

Well, I suppose you could say I was destined to go to UCL from birth since Phin is actually short for my full name, Phineas (although I prefer the Institute if I’m being honest).

Another one is that surprises people since I’m quite clearly not Chinese is that I’ve spent most of my life in Hong Kong, being born there and only moving to Ireland when I was nearly 11.

More information

Applications are now open for the Laidlaw Research and Leadership Programme. Find out more and apply now.