HDR UK’s Early Career Committee was set up in autumn 2019 to provide a stage to raise the profile of early career researchers, technologists and innovators, and provide a platform for their unique and valuable perspectives. At HDR UK we value the views and contributions of all parts of our community – as set out in our statement on equality, diversity and inclusion – and those at an early career stage (in the first eight or so years of their career), are no exception. There are currently six members, who give up their time each month, voluntarily, to consider the latest HDR UK open access peer-reviewed publications. From these, they select a Publication of the Month, to shine a spotlight on, and celebrate the achievements of members of the HDR UK community.

This altruistic group is representative of the wider ‘Using health data’ community across the UK. The Committee is a diverse group, drawn from across UK regions, from a range of HDR UK National Priorities, Health Data Research Hubs and Fellowship programmes – they include data scientists, clinicians, informaticians, analysts and statisticians. They apply their skills in health data research to a range of domains – from mental health to diseases of the eye – to make discoveries that can improve the lives of the population of the four nations of the UK, including some of our most vulnerable groups such as homeless people, those at risk of substance misuse, and adolescents with severe behavioural issues. Their work all has one thing in common – it is underpinned and enabled by the use of large-scale health data.

The work of HDR UK’s Early Career Committee – which somehow the members manage to squeeze into their schedule of important research and innovation to improve people’s lives – serves an important function for HDR UK, in highlighting some of the best examples of using health data, and communicating these in publicly-accessible language. The criteria they use to rate publications ensures that the winning publication each month is impactful and aligns closely to HDR UK’s mission, vision and values. Over the first six months of the Committee’s existence, its members have reviewed well over half of all HDR UK open access publications ever published, and every one of our COVID-19 pre-prints to date. From these deliberations, they have selected ten winning and highly commended publications, one example of which is work that developed a way of using health data to identify people at immediate risk of heart attack, prior to it happening – involving ‘machine-learning’, a type of artificial intelligence – which could enable targeted and early intervention to prevent heart attacks from occurring in this vulnerable group of patients.

At the onset of the current pandemic, the Committee temporarily switched to considering pre-prints that shed light on COVID-19, to help draw out key insights and learning. Despite some members managing COVID-19 related clinical responsibilities, others diverting their research to addressing the COVID-19 challenge, and some caring for young children at home when nurseries and schools closed, the work of the Committee continued. During this time, they have highlighted important work, such as the development of the COVID-19 Symptom Tracker app and insights that have arisen from analysis of the data it has generated, including confirming loss of smell and taste as a symptom in the UK population.

Between their ‘day jobs’ and ‘committee business’, the work of the Early Career Committee epitomises the ‘team science’ spirit, that drives HDR UK research, technology and innovation endeavour across our national community of health data ‘users’. We are sincerely grateful to founding Early Career Committee members: Ruth Blackburn, Jaya Chaturvedi, Jon Kennedy, Xiao Liu, Amy Mizen and Fatemeh Torabi.

The contributions of this excellent team were recognised through HDR UK’s annual awards process in 2020, where they were short-listed, alongside three other teams, for HDR UK Team of the Year!