UCL Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy


Spotlight on... Dr Sarah Quinnell

10 August 2020

Dr Sarah Quinnell is Lecturer (Teaching) in Science, Engineering & Policy Practice at UCL STEaPP

Sarah Quinnell

How long have you been at STEaPP? What does your role involve?

I have been at STEaPP since October 2018 and I love it. I am a Lecturer (Teaching) in Science, Engineering & Policy Practice with responsibility for our Undergraduate teaching programme. This includes the three module Integrated Engineering Programme Minor in Engineering and Public Policy and I lead the delivery of How to Change the World our Flagship two week intensive design studio programme that gets teams of engineers across the faculty to work together to tackle the most complex challenges facing the world today.

What drew you to STEaPP and UCL?

I did my first PhD (currently on my second) at King’s College London, affectionately known as the enemy or the Poly on the Strand round here! It was in Behavioural Geography but with a focus on the interface between science and society. As I was finishing STEaPP was born and it always sounded like the perfect fit for me.

How does your research feed into your teaching (and vice versa)?

My initial training was in Behavioural Geography and my PhD looked at how people interacted with and constructed spaces to participate in the development and deployment of new technology. The psychological underpinnings of that really inform what I do with our UG students I spend a lot of time getting them to think about whose voices are heard or not and why and what that means for the technical solutions they develop as engineers.

Since then I was diagnosed as being Autistic and my interest has shifted more towards that particular voice. A high percentage of students in STEM are Autistic and the way in which we teach does not always play to their strengths. My second PhD is exploring this topic in relation to group-based learning.

What inspires you?

My students. Every single one of them brings something new and different to the table. No year is the same, no matter how many times you deliver a module. Seeing the things they produce is amazing. This is particularly true at the end of How to Change the World when the student who thought social stuff was vague and waffly at the start is presenting the most amazing solution. Or in class when you ask a question and that sparks an amazing debate about society and its structures. Every day is different

What achievements are you most proud of?

Achieving Chartered Psychologist status last year. I am now a Chartered Member of the Division of Academics, Teachers and Researchers of Psychology. I was awarded my CPsychol status on the back of my teaching.

Receiving a nomination for inspiring teaching delivery in the 2019/20 academic year student choice awards. Knowing that my students enjoy what I do and took the time to tell people is phenomenal.

Who influenced you?

That’s a dangerous question as there are many people but with a UCL theme I would have to say Professor Claire Warwick who is now at Durham but was Director of the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities. I first met her when she gave her Professorial Lecture and talked about her career on the intersection between Humanities and Technology. There was line, “if you build it they will come, but not unless you do user studies” that has been my mantra in my teaching ever since.

Outside of Academia Katy Perry and Mary Berry

If you could give one piece of advice to your teenage self, what would it be?

Never drink neat vodka, it doesn’t agree with you.

What piece of advice would you like to give to a student?

It’s okay to say you don’t know. ‘I don’t know’ is probably one of the most loaded and judged terms in academia, for some absurd reason. Lets face it, if we knew everything we wouldn’t be here. You can make mistakes, you can say you do not know something. This is how you learn.

Also, if you have a loyalty card for a coffee shop cash in your points! They make money from you forgetting to do that.

What three words would you use to describe STEaPP?

Innovative, inspirational, intense.