What's the most enjoyable aspect of being involved with the IFP?
Working with people, and that ranges from my colleagues here at the University of London, to the teachers that we work with who deliver the IFP, to the students who take it.
In terms of your own research, you're an expert in the politics of outer space. How did you get into this area of research?
I stumbled across outer space law when I was aged 19 as an undergraduate student studying political science in North America. I found a book in the library on outer space law and thought 'I didn't even know this existed'. I was intrigued that there had been a collective political effort to establish governance over ‘outer space’, as far back as the 1950s. What was this system of governance, and how did it come about? I was, and remain, intrigued by the way in which outer space as a political and philosophical realm seems to occupy the extremes of the human imagination: is it our shared humanity, collective future, noble scientific endeavours? Or the ultimate military high-ground, and political arena for prestige and power?
I started focusing on outer space law and that evolved through my master's and my PhD, to me being interested in why and how different entities come to coordinate for outer space, in particular looking at regimes – which is something that we teach on the IFP – and why countries have developed governance over celestial bodies. Now I've moved into also being interested in the ethics of colonisation and things like how we potentially represent ourselves in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.
Is there the possibility of future competition over the Moon’s resources?
Quite possibly, although I don't think that we should automatically assume that's the case. The international legal infrastructure is such that, technically, outer space is neutral territory – no nation state may lay sovereign claim to a celestial body. However, the United States in particular is driving a discussion about allowing the extraction of resources, most likely not for bringing back down to earth but for use in situ for further exploration. So I think it is likely to happen, but I personally think we should continue to push for this conversation to be discussed through the United Nations.
The UK has so many amazing researchers, and I was just incredibly honoured that my application had been chosen amongst all of the others.
You were last year’s Margaret Mead Award Lecture winner for social sciences. What did it mean to you, professionally, to receive the award?
I knew that the LSE had nominated me for the Award, but to be honest when I won it I had a period of ‘fraud syndrome’: I felt the British Science Association had made a mistake of some sort in choosing me, or had mis-sent an email or something! The UK has so many amazing researchers, and I was just incredibly (and incredulously) honoured that my application had been chosen amongst all of the others.
However, once I got my head around it, I was thrilled. The Award was related specifically to my ability to communicate my research to the wider public. The focus of my Award Lecture, ‘Who Owns Outer Space’, became a proxy for communicating to public audiences about space politics and ethics. Conversely, I have used the subsequent public lectures as an opportunity to ask the wider public what they think about space exploration? I still crave that feedback from the wider public, and receiving the Margaret Mead Award has bolstered my interest and desire to continue with public engagement.
When I was granted this visa, friends found it amusing that, as an ‘Exceptional Talent Migrant’ I was an ‘ET Alien’.
You're one of an elite number of people endorsed by the Home Office as an ‘Exceptionally Talented Migrant and World Leader’. What does that mean exactly?
I am no longer an ‘exceptional talent migrant’, given that as of February 2016 I have been upgraded to Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK. This was granted after I proved that I have lived in the UK for ten years, and after I passed the UK citizenship test. (Sample question: how many jurors are on a Scottish jury?)
The visa in my passport however actually says ‘Exceptional Talent migrant’. When I was granted this visa, friends found it amusing that, as an ‘Exceptional Talent Migrant’ I was an ‘ET Alien’. In order to secure this visa, I had to show that I have a PhD; have held a fellowship at a UK research institution (the LSE, in my case); and was approved by my academic peers as a leader in my field of research.