This week we meet Meaghan, who is Senior Contracts Manager for UCL Consultants Ltd (UCLC). Here, Meaghan chats to us about working on a project facilitating the collection of samples from patients suffering from Covid-19 in an effort to advance commercial research of the virus.
What is your role and what does it involve?
I am a Senior Contracts Manager for UCL Consultants Ltd (UCLC) which is part of UCL Innovation & Enterprise. UCLC facilitates consultancy work performed by UCL academics and staff for external clients. I draft and negotiate contracts and protect UCL and UCL’s academics’ and staff’s most precious commodity - their intellectual property.
I’m a deal-maker, which sounds easier than it is. It is easy to agree on something in principle, but putting ideas on paper, while tedious, is important - that is where discrepancies in thought come to light and can be settled through objective language.
But as I tell my daughter, I mostly send emails all day long.
How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?
I’ve been with UCLC since 2016. Before that I lived in Germany for a while where my partner led a research group at a Max Planck Institute. Before, that I worked in the City as a corporate lawyer for Russian energy companies. I’m originally from Texas where oil and gas law features rather prominently, and I studied Russian at university including a period of study in Moscow, so it all made sense at the time.
What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?
I’m pretty proud of leading UCLC’s input on the Lagrange spacecraft project. This is a project with researchers at the UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory for the European Space Agency (ESA). The Lagrange mission will provide an early warning system for severe space weather which can be hazardous for infrastructure on Earth. I negotiated the contract with ESA as well as the six subcontracting institutions which include Airbus Defence and Space and Imperial College. It was fantastic seeing the ESA facility first-hand which proved a compelling expression of international collaboration.
Work on this project, and others like it, has tangible social impact. The great thing about consultancy is seeing academic insight applied to make real-world change for the better. I’ve negotiated contracts for academics who are improving the taste of vital medicine for children and others who are training the world’s teachers. I’m not the one making change, but helping in my small way towards positive progress feels really good.
Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list?
UCLC, like the rest of UCL, has decamped. We are working remotely from our kitchens and sitting rooms, surrounded by our children, just like many others in the UK and around the world. But we all continue and our aim is to keep business open as usual. Though we are physically apart, if anything, we have really come together, quickly adapting to using MS Teams. We have a strong wellness initiative to help us all adjust. The support I see in our office, in the UCL community, and from the stakeholders I work with is encouraging and beautiful in a way I certainly did not expect.
Business as usual includes moving forward with current contracts such as a fascinating project involving high-tech mapping of forest density. This is especially relevant now as we have heard from UCL’s own Kate Jones that human behaviour including deforestation and lack of habitat for wild species may be contributing to the increase of animal-borne infectious diseases.
Also, as a matter of not just national but international interest, I am urgently working on a project that involves assisting a biobank to facilitate the collection of samples from patients suffering from Covid-19 in an effort to advance commercial research of the virus. Who knows, maybe this work will play a role in identifying a vaccine. Looking around at the essential workers in the NHS and beyond, as a lawyer, I couldn’t feel more dispensable. We all want to help and I’m just happy for that opportunity.
What is your favourite album, film and novel?
My favourite film, hands down, is the 1985 film Water with Michael Caine. Why it isn’t known, never mind well known, I will never understand. It features an unseen Margaret Thatcher, Billy Connolly conversing only in song, and appearances by George Harrison, Eric Clapton and Ringo Starr. It is a farcical tale of fallen empire and a quintessential British comedy.
What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?
Anyone who knows me knows I would just tell it wrong: "[Punch line], oops, wait. Let me start again..."
Who would be your dream dinner guests?
Oliver Sacks, Henry David Thoreau, and Dolly Parton. I rather think they’d have a lot to talk about.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I actually have advice for my future self. It focuses on how to foster a productive relationship with your future adult children. As you may imagine, it is rather lengthy. But currently being my once future self and scoffing at my younger self, I probably won’t take it.
What would it surprise people to know about you?
They may be surprised to know that I play football for Islington and also, I’m left-footed. That or that I was once voted "Most likely to start a revolution and claim it was thesis research."
What is your favourite place?
Anywhere hot and humid - think walking into the Palm House at Kew in July. Home is London. But there is something about a blanket of humidity and matching heat that elicits a haunting comfort.