Connections and Collaborations: The Global Fellows Programme on Cities of the Future. Charishma Ratnam, PhD Candidate, University of New South Wales Australia

by Charishma Ratnam, PhD Candidate, University of New South Wales, Australia


It is becoming a household statistic: by 2050, 66% of the world’s population will live in cities[1]. This statistic holds much value for me as I pursue my research on migration (specifically in regard to refugees and asylum seekers) and how migrants settle in places. When I was given the opportunity to apply for the Global Fellows Programme: Cities of the Future with this year’s focus on health and well-being, this statistic resonated with me even more. The current state and future of our big cities has become contentious, and the programme was able to offer a space for interdisciplinary discussions to take place.

The Global Fellows Programme was held from June 10 to 15, 2018 at the Velodrome, Olympic Park, London, a place that saw much victory for England in the 2012 Olympics. Before arriving in London, each participant was placed in a team, and each team was allocated a theme for the week: health, mobility/transport, smart data/interconnectivity, housing, and business/infrastructure. These themes would form the framework for our project ideas and pitches. On entering the Velodrome, I was excited by the opportunity and motivation, as I saw the cyclists making their way around the track. The first day was about meeting and connecting with the group and the teams we were placed in. The most challenging task of the day: coming up with a team name. Our team (after much deliberation) settled on ‘The Lazy Foxes’! Lazy, defining some of the members of our group, and foxes, being the clever strategies and initiative we would take throughout the week. The second day tested our teamwork skills, where we undertook five fast-paced team-building exercises, followed by a period of reflection. After these team-building exercises, there were several outings that took place for the rest of the week. A few highlights included a visit to The Crystal – one of the world’s most sustainable buildings by Siemens, showcasing an exhibition about the future of cities – next to London Royal Docks, the Emirates Cable Car trip to North Greenwich where we were able to see the scale of redevelopments occurring in East London, and a visit to Imperial’s new White City campus.

After absorbing all the information delivered to us, we were left to our own devices. Although overwhelming and challenging, my team managed to come up with a concrete idea that focused on business and infrastructure. I gained important experience and knowledge from this collaborative process. Working together with other interdisciplinary, inter-institutional and international PhD researchers, academics and industry professionals meant that we learned a lot from each other. Delivering our final team pitch was a highlight for me – we were given feedback from a range of academics and industry professionals from different fields.

I would encourage PhD researchers to apply for similar professional development opportunities when they are offered. I was able to build networks, collaborations and connections with participants in the programme, and also benefit from the professional/personal development, team-building skills and interdisciplinary exchanges. I have gained a wider perspective on research that engages with the cities of our future, and I am interested in expanding on this area of concern further with the new friends, collaborators and research networks I have fostered at the Global Fellows Programme on Cities of the Future.



UNSW PhD researchers (L to R): Malshika Dias, Henrique Benites and Charishma Ratnam and UNSW Visiting Researcher Daniel Lu (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore).
Cycling track at the Velodrome, Olympic Park, London.
View of East London redevelopments from the Emirates Cable Car from Emirates Royal Docks to North Greenwich.
My team that worked on a business and infrastructure idea for the week (L to R): Stephanie Hewitt (ICL), Kahar Abula (TUM), Charishma Ratnam (UNSW), Heba Awadh (ICL), Clare Hunt (ICL), Shreyash Hadke (NTU), Mayu Sakuma (TUM), Mudussir Ayub (TUM), and Christopher Voss (TUM).