UCL Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy


Wanhao Zhang

Wanhao completed his undergraduate degree in China, before graduating from King's College London with an MSc in Eurasian Political Economy and Energy. He joined STEaPP in 2020 to work on his PhD.

Headshot of PhD student, Zhang Wanhao
How did you come to realise you wanted to study for a PhD?

I realised I wanted to study for a PhD when I became acutely aware of the importance of sustainable development. As I delved deeper into various global challenges, I recognised that pursuing a PhD would provide me with the necessary tools and knowledge to contribute meaningfully to addressing these critical issues. This realisation motivated me to further my education and research in order to make a positive impact on the world's sustainability efforts.

Why did you choose to undertake a PhD at UCL STEaPP?

I chose to undertake a PhD at UCL STEaPP because of the department's renowned expertise in science, technology, engineering, and public policy, which perfectly aligns with my research interests in energy policy. UCL STEaPP offers a vibrant academic environment with access to leading scholars, cutting-edge research facilities, and a multidisciplinary approach to addressing complex global challenges.

Furthermore, my decision to pursue a PhD at UCL STEaPP was influenced by the opportunity for joint supervision with the UCL Energy Institute, a prestigious institution that specialises in energy research. This collaboration provides me with a unique platform to explore the intricate relationship between energy policy, energy consumption behavior, and innovative energy practices.

UCL's central location in London also offers unparalleled access to a diverse range of resources, including government institutions, international organisations, and industry leaders, which is invaluable for conducting policy research and networking with experts in my field.

Overall, I believe that UCL STEaPP offers the ideal academic environment and resources to support my research goals and aspirations, making it the natural choice for pursuing my PhD.

What is the focus of your PhD?

The focus of my PhD research is centered on energy policy, particularly in the context of sustainable development and climate change mitigation. I am specifically investigating the energy consumption practices related to cooling technologies and their environmental impact.

Cooling practices have been identified as one of the significant contributors to energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, making them a critical area of study for achieving sustainability goals. My research aims to understand the factors influencing cooling practices, such as the adoption of energy-efficient technologies and behaviors, as well as the policies and interventions that can effectively promote sustainable cooling.

By analysing these factors, I seek to develop evidence-based policy recommendations that can guide large-scale social practice changes to reduce the environmental impact of cooling practices and contribute to the broader efforts to combat climate change.

In summary, my PhD research is focused on energy policy, with a specific emphasis on cooling practices and their role in achieving sustainability and addressing the challenges of climate change.

What has been the highlight of your PhD so far?

International Collaborations: Over the past few years, I have had the privilege of actively collaborating with research teams from various countries, including China, Japan, and the Netherlands. These collaborations have allowed me to gain diverse perspectives and insights into energy consumption behavior and policy practices on a global scale.

Co-Authorship of Significant Reports: I served as an editorial member and co-authored the "Xiongan New Area Green Development Report (2019-2021)" in collaboration with esteemed institutions like Tsinghua University. This report contributed to the understanding of sustainable development in an evolving urban context.

Publication in Respected Journals: I have had the opportunity to publish research findings in high-impact peer-reviewed journals, such as "Sustainable Energy Technologies and Assessments," "International Journal of Hydrogen Energy," and "Ecological Indicators." These publications have allowed me to share my research with the broader scientific community and further establish my presence in the field. Notably, one of my papers was selected as an ESI 1% highly cited paper, highlighting the impact and relevance of my research.

Chinese Government Award: I am honored to have received the prestigious "Chinese Government Award for Outstanding Self-financed Students Abroad" in 2023. This award represents the highest recognition given to international students by the Chinese government. It reflects my academic and research achievements during my studies abroad and underscores my standing within the global international student community.

Reviewer and Program Committee Roles: Being invited to serve as a reviewer for the prestigious journal "Energy Research & Social Science" and as a Program Committee Member for an international scientific conference in Latvia (Latvia University of Life Sciences and Technologies) in 2022 were both significant acknowledgments of my expertise in the field.

How would you describe the community at STEaPP?

STEaPP is deeply engaged in addressing real-world challenges, emphasising the practical application of research. This commitment to finding solutions to complex problems creates an environment where innovation flourishes, and students can contribute meaningfully to impactful research projects.

Access to leading experts is another highlight of the STEaPP community. Students have the privilege of working closely with renowned scholars in their fields, benefiting from their mentorship and insights. Moreover, STEaPP offers a supportive learning environment that encourages critical thinking and exploration of new ideas. Faculty and peers are readily available to provide guidance and support.

In addition, the department provides numerous networking opportunities through seminars, workshops, and events. These gatherings enable students to connect with professionals, policymakers, and fellow researchers, enhancing their academic and professional networks.

What are the facilities like at STEaPP, and the UCL campus generally?

The facilities at STEaPP and UCL's campus are modern and well-equipped. This includes state-of-the-art laboratories, extensive libraries, technology resources, study spaces, and support services. The campus also offers cultural, recreational, and green spaces. UCL's central location in London provides access to numerous opportunities in the city. Overall, the facilities cater to academic excellence, research, and student well-being.

How have you found the support available at STEaPP, and the wider university?

The support available at STEaPP and the wider university has been outstanding. From academic guidance and research resources to student services and well-being support, UCL provides a comprehensive network of resources to help students excel academically and personally. This support creates a conducive environment for learning and growth.

What are your future plans/aspirations?

My future plans and aspirations involve pursuing a career in academia and research, with a particular focus on sustainable development. I aspire to become a dedicated scholar who contributes significantly to the understanding and advancement of sustainable practices and policies.

In the short term, I intend to complete my PhD and continue conducting research in the field of energy policy, specifically addressing the impacts of cooling practices. I aim to publish my findings in reputable journals and collaborate with experts in the field to further expand my knowledge and expertise.

Looking ahead, I aspire to secure a position in academia, potentially as a lecturer or researcher at a university in the UK. I am passionate about teaching and mentoring the next generation of scholars, sharing my knowledge and fostering a deeper understanding of sustainable development.

Additionally, I plan to actively engage in interdisciplinary research projects and collaborate with international organisations, government agencies, and non-profit entities to contribute to real-world solutions for sustainability challenges.

Ultimately, my long-term goal is to make a meaningful and lasting impact on global efforts to promote sustainability and combat climate change through research, education, and policy advocacy.

Do you have a mentor/role model who has inspired you?

Yes, I am fortunate to have a mentor and role model in my academic journey who has been a great source of inspiration. My mentor, Professor Arthur Petersen, has played a significant role in shaping my approach to research and my perspective on academia.

One of the most valuable lessons I've learned from Professor Arthur is the importance of embracing interdisciplinary research. He has shown me that by looking beyond quantitative aspects and considering the broader societal impacts of our work, we can address complex issues more effectively. His guidance has encouraged me to adopt a more holistic approach, especially when studying sustainability and energy policy.

Moreover, Professor Arthur has emphasised the significance of acknowledging uncertainty in scientific research. He has taught me that recognising and managing uncertainty is a crucial aspect of the scientific process. This lesson has profoundly influenced my research philosophy, making me more attentive to the nuances and complexities inherent in sustainability challenges.

Overall, Professor Arthur's mentorship has not only influenced my research approach but has also instilled in me a deeper appreciation for the interdisciplinary nature of academia. I aspire to follow in his footsteps by contributing to cross-disciplinary research that addresses pressing global issues, just as he has inspired me to do.

What advice would you give to future PhD students?

Passion in Research: Choosing a research topic that genuinely interests you is crucial because a PhD is a long and demanding journey. When you're passionate about your subject matter, you'll remain engaged and motivated, even during challenging times. Your enthusiasm will drive your dedication and perseverance in exploring your chosen field deeply.

Effective Time Management: Time management is a critical skill for PhD students. The demands of research, coursework, and personal life can be overwhelming. Creating a well-structured schedule, setting achievable goals, and prioritizing tasks will help you make the most of your time. Effective time management ensures that you can balance your responsibilities and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Mentorship and Self-Care: Building a supportive network of mentors and advisors is invaluable. Their guidance and feedback will be instrumental in shaping your research and academic journey. Regular communication with your research team and peers can provide insights and perspectives that you might not have considered on your own. Additionally, prioritise self-care and well-being. Taking care of your physical and mental health is essential for maintaining productivity and ensuring your long-term success in academia. It's okay to seek support when needed and to find a balance that allows you to thrive academically and personally.