Spotlight on... Irina Brass

Irina is Lecturer in Regulation, Innovation and Public Policy at UCL STEaPP, where she co-leads the MPA in Digital Technologies and Policy. Here, she chats to us about receiving the BSI Standards-Makers Award and shares her favourite spot in Iceland.

What is your role and what does it involve?

I am Lecturer in Regulation, Innovation and Public Policy at the Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy (UCL STEaPP), where I co-lead the MPA in Digital Technologies and Policy and teach a number of courses: Public Administration, Foundations in Digital Technologies and Policy, and Risk Assessment and Governance.

My research focuses on the regulation and governance of emerging technologies - a highly salient topic in our contemporary world, when we have to think very carefully about how best to encourage responsible innovation. I am Co-Investigator in the EPSRC Future Targeted Healthcare Manufacturing Hub, where I lead a project on regulatory strategies for biotherapeutics, and I recently completed a Co-Investigator appointment in the EPSRC PETRAS IoT Research Hub, where I co-led a project looking at the standardisation, regulatory and governance challenges of the Internet of Things.

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

I’ve been at UCL since 2015. Before my lectureship appointment, I was Postdoctoral Research Associate in the PETRAS IoT Research Hub and prior to that a Senior Teaching Fellow at STEaPP.

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?

One of my priority research topics is to shed light on the (often) misunderstood relationship between technical and normative standards, standards-making processes and regulatory frameworks. I was extremely proud and honoured when, in 2019, I received the prestigious BSI Standards-Makers Award for Education about Standardisation.

This achievement is the result of a fantastic collaboration with the British Standards Institution (BSI) - the UK national standards body and one of the most reputable standards-making bodies in the world. The collaboration started in 2016, when the PETRAS IoT Research Hub nominated me as member of the BSI Internet of Things Technical Committee. Since then, I was elected and am acting Chair of the BSI IoT/1 Committee, overseeing a number of initiatives, but the one I am most proud of is the coordination of a White Paper investigating the standardisation needs of IoT SMEs.

I also worked closely with the BSI to coordinate an ambitious STEaPP MPA Group Project (equivalent of a master’s dissertation) to further our research into the standardisation needs of SMEs. The project attracted the interest of four smart, highly dedicated and hardworking MPA candidates who conducted impressive fieldwork and made the project a success. It has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my academic life, seeing four female MPA candidates taking on such a difficult research topic, in a field predominantly led by male technical expertise, and providing fresh thinking and recommendations for the IoT community and the UK National Standards Body.

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

There are two projects I’ve been working on for a while and are still in the making: a small but very special project which looks at the evolution of regulatory innovations in response to scientific or technological risk and uncertainty. The second is a new collaboration with the BSI and the current Digital Technologies and Policy MPA candidates at STEaPP, looking at the standardisation and regulatory challenges raised by connected, intelligent devices and systems in healthcare.

What is your favourite album, film and novel?

This is a tough one. Rachael Yamagata’s Happenstance is a favourite go-to album whenever I need a little peace, quiet and mending. Good Bye, Lenin! is a favourite movie for its witty reflection on the "transition period" that Central and Eastern European countries went through after the fall of the Berlin wall. Novels - it’s tricky - I have many favourites, but the latest favourite must be The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell.

What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?

You know you don’t have any good jokes when your first response is to open a search I will pass this one.

Who would be your dream dinner guests?

I think magic happens when you combine politics, satire and science fiction. So, my special guest list will definitely include Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, Bernard Shaw, Jules Vernes, H. G. Wells, Ursula Le Guin, William Gibson... the list continues, so I guess it would be more like a banquet.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I should have made the most of the programming courses we had to take in high school. I still remember the Pascal blue screen and what a dread it seemed then, yet how useful programming skills are now.

What would it surprise people to know about you?

I’m ambidextrous.

What is your favourite place?

Sat on the edge of the Eyjafjörður (fjord) in Iceland on a bright spring day overlooking the intense greens and browns of the surrounding mountains with their white hats on, and the pure blues of the ocean and the sky.

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