UCL Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy


Meet our new Head of Department

12 November 2018

Hear from Prof Joanna Chataway about why she chose to join the department, why she is so impressed by our Masters programme and her exciting plans.

Why did you decide to join the Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy (STEaPP)?

I really enjoy working at the intersect of academic research, teaching and interaction with non-academic stakeholders. STEaPP is the perfect place for me with academics who are committed to doing great interdisciplinary research and impacting on policy in relation to social, economic and environmental targets. The department offers novel and excellent postgraduate teaching which reflects those goals and also has highly skilled non-academic researchers and professional staff who have significant experience in making research accessible and relevant to policymakers. The teaching in the department is rooted in giving students rigorous academic training but also skills to address real world problems. STEaPP is also committed to giving students opportunities to interact with a range of policy bodies and companies grappling with policy challenges. The fact that STEaPP is part of UCL, a university so evidently committed to embedding its teaching and research in the context of societal challenges was hugely appealing. And its location within the Engineering Faculty, with its ‘Change the World’ ethos certainly added to the attraction. We live in strange and challenging times and in this context in particular, it is really important that we find ways to support policy makers who look for good evidence to inform policy. STEaPP is extremely well placed to play a role in that mission.

What past experiences will you draw on for this role?

I have had senior leadership roles at the Open University (OU) and within the Science Policy research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex and will draw on great experiences in leading interdisciplinary departments and teaching programmes at both institutions. I also worked with highly innovative policy related research initiatives such as the ESRC Innogen research centre at the OU and the Transformative Innovation Policy Consortium (TIPC) at SPRU. I also led a team working on science and innovation policy at RAND Europe, a not for profit independent research organisation. The experience I got from working directly on numerous research commissions from a range of government and non-government bodies and leading a team committed to very high-quality commissioned research was incredibly rewarding. Partly due to some wonderful clients from whom I learned about the research and policy interface. STEaPP is trying to come at this challenge of producing knowledge relevant for policy and social and economic goals from various angles and so all that experience will be relevant.

What are your priorities in your new role?

STEaPP is a young and ambitious department. One priority will be to continue to develop the mission and vision on the basis of early learning. I’m very keen to contribute to building collaborations within UCL and with external academic and non-academic partners. Another will be to work with STEaPP’s talented staff, particularly early career researchers, to make sure that their work is getting recognition and we are creating an environment where staff are appreciated and given opportunities to innovate and develop careers reflecting their ambitions.

What are you most excited about?

Working closely with new colleagues and developing new collaborations.

STEaPP's flagship education programme is the Master's of Public Administration (MPA) what makes this course unique? Where do you see it developing in the future?

I am really impressed by what the MPA has achieved so far. It’s a fantastic programme which gives students a grounding in core science, technology and innovation policy issues but also the opportunity to specialise in areas that most relate to their interests, aims and objectives. The opportunities for students to get involved in ‘real-world’ problem solving research is wonderful. I am also a huge fan of the ‘How to Change the World’ short course. I’m really look forward to working on varying the ways in which we use the approach to offer short courses internationally with partner universities and as executive education CPD options.

What institution do you most admire in terms of their approach to education?

There are so many ways in which universities and research initiatives across different contexts are innovating to meet the challenges associated with teaching and using research and evidence for social good. Honestly, UCL is a continual source of inspiration in that respect. Other London universities are also doing some very creative things. I find Kings College’s ‘Service’ ethos very interesting, whilst Queen Mary’s commitment to having positive impact starting from its East London base is really impressive. And great things are also happening across the world. For example, I was recently in Rwanda and had the pleasure of meeting colleagues from the University of Rwanda. I was inspired by the University’s vision to produce future leaders and contribute to broad social and economic goals. The Science Granting Councils Initiative (SGCI) also deserves a shout out for supporting the development of research funding in sub-Saharan Africa.