Scholar Spotlight - Batool Wajiha Zaidi

Laidlaw Scholar, Batool Wajiha Zaidi, Highlights the Importance of Student Voices in University Sustainability Policies.
Scholar Spotlight -  Batool Wajiha Zaidi
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Batool Wajiha Zaidi, a UCL Laidlaw Scholar, Spearheads Youth Engagement for Sustainable Education Policies.

Research title: Youth Voices for Sustainable Futures in Higher Education

Universities have a responsibility to lead the response to the climate crisis through their primary roles of education and research. Students, in particular, have raised their voices to advocate for positive change in their institutions. For this reason, we conducted a research project in collaboration with 14 students across UCL to develop a policy brief with recommendations for sustainable futures in higher education. We organised a participatory workshop in Gordon Square Park, London with undergraduate students to find out their experiences of learning about climate change and sustainability in university. We used this discussion as a starting point for the policy brief to make student recommendations addressed to decision-makers in higher education. A central theme across all recommendations was that sustainability and the probable futures that society faces should foreground all decision-making in universities. The students felt that this was an opportunity to reflect deeply on their undergraduate experience, make meaningful recommendations for policy-makers in their university, and contribute to their first public-facing document on this issue. This policy brief will be used to inform the development of a new BA programme for the Institute of Education at UCL, ongoing communication between the UCL Sustainability Committee, the UCL Centre for Climate Change and Sustainability Education Centre and the Student’s Union

The policy brief can be found on the Laidlaw Scholars Network website here. This project was co-led by two first-year undergraduate students, Batool Wajiha Zaidi and Kavan Shah as part of the UCL Laidlaw scholarship programme, and supervised by Professor Lizzie Rushton.

Where did your passion for this research originate?

I was a strange kid, because even at a young age, I was really excited about growing up and studying at university. Learning new things has always fascinated me and the idea of conducting research to learn more about the world is really exciting. Furthermore, my religion has emphasised the actions and values needed to coexist with the natural environment and reach a sustainable future.  

My passion for this research developed the more and more I progressed with this research project. The more I learnt about the importance of climate change education and becoming more sustainable, the more hopeful and excited I became for working with other students to make clear recommendations for sustainable futures in our university. 

How have you applied your leadership skills in real life? What are some insights & lessons from your experience?

At the moment, I am the President of the UCL Sign Language Society for which I lead a team of 9 undergraduate students to organise events to raise awareness of sign language and deafness for a society which has over 200 student members. This year, we have expanded the society by introducing a new deaf teacher, holding more weekly classes with 85 students learning BSL and have held exciting events such as a documentary movie night and a workshop on the sign language of climate change.  

As President, the way that I interact with the other committee members really shapes the success of the society. The leadership training I received as part of the Laidlaw scholarship programme, is always at the back of my mind when I make decisions for the society. I have learnt that I always have to be patient and kind when working in a team of other students but I also have to be persuasive and firm to get things done.  

For my research project, I also had to lead a team of 14 students when collaborating to produce the policy brief. Using the workshop, I developed an initial draft for the policy brief and then shared it with the 10 undergraduate students who agreed to become co-authors. It was certainly a humbling experience to see my work critiqued and deconstructed by ten students from different backgrounds and expertise. At the end, when I took everyone’s suggestions into account, I could see how the policy brief became more clear, persuasive, academic and thus more impactful. I learnt the value of working and consulting others and that being generous in sharing your opportunity is more valuable rather than wanting to take the credit for yourself.

A picture of me in front of the UCL Main Campus.

Please provide a short list of bullet points of your top leadership tips

  • Be kind to yourself and others.
  • Do not be afraid to be the most enthusiastic person in the room.
  • Give your team space.
  • Be honest and transparent in all that you do.
  • Remember your place.

What does it mean for you to be a Laidlaw Scholar?

Being a Laidlaw scholar is an incredible opportunity. However, this means that you bear a responsibility to make the most out of this opportunity by working really hard and being prepared to make necessary sacrifices. For me, I decided to stay in London for the full duration of my 6-week summer research project instead of going back home to my family in Pakistan despite being given the option to work remotely by my supervisor. I decided to spend the money I received from Laidlaw to stay longer in London, connecting and meeting with my supervisor in-person every week and ensuring that the work I was tasked to do was of the best quality that I could achieve. It was really tough and lonely and it was my first time being away from home for such a long time. I am really pleased with what I learnt and achieved in my 6-week research project. We developed an amazing policy brief which I hope will have a positive impact at UCL and other universities and I developed a really good relationship with my supervisor who now acts more like my mentor.

Which leaders inspire you the most and why?

Mr Bean is an inspiring leader for me because he reminds me not to take life too seriously, it’s okay to have a teddy bear even as a grown adult and being childish and funny is the best route to any solution.

Briefly describe a scene from the future you are striving to create.

In many ways, I see the actions taken in response to the climate crisis such as through university education, as solutions to other global issues. Academics have emphasised that in order to respond to the climate crisis we will need to change our very nature by expanding our consciousness to others. Many of the issues we see across the world are caused by our lack of empathy and connection. I strive to see a world where we are equal, where all people try to exhibit qualities of kindness, humility, faith and empathy. This is how I can envision global challenges such as climate change, poverty, food insecurity, conflicts and disasters can be overcome. I understand that we are still far off from this future but I believe that we can become catalysts for positive change.


Quick-fire Questions

🎥 Currently Binging: Mr Bean

📚 My top book recommendation: 

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

🎶 My anthem: Mr Bean theme song

🌈 Something that made me feel joy recently: 

I absolutely love blowing bubbles!


 

You can find Batool on LinkedIn. If you are interested in learning more about Batool's research, check out her research here.

Batool is a Laidlaw Undergraduate Leadership and Research Scholar at UCL. Become a Laidlaw Scholar to conduct a research project of your choice, develop your leadership skills, and join a global community of changemakers from world-leading universities.

Find out more about the Laidlaw Scholars Undergraduate Leadership and Research Programme.

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