Initial thoughts of the HDR UK Black Internship Programme

The first thing that struck me about the internship was the wide range of backgrounds of the interns. Despite my limited data science and programming awareness or skills, the “health data” aspect of the title of the role advertised caught my attention and I began to fill in the application. I was sceptical though, thinking I wasn’t a data scientist and so it wasn’t for me, and I left the application uncompleted for a few days. I got a reminder email of the upcoming deadline and I decided to complete and submit it. I am SO GLAD I did! 

This internship was exactly what the doctor ordered to bring me back from my long involuntary career break. Having a medical background and transitioning out of clinical medicine was more difficult than I envisaged, and this internship provided an exceptional opportunity to get engaged in health data research. I chose NIHR CRNCC as my host organisation to get exposed to research delivery across the NHS, industry, and academia as I still have my heart set on health research and academia in the long term. 

My HDR UK Black Internship Programme experience

Finding out what the NIHR CRNCC does was a surprise. Going in, I assumed I would be working with patient data and was looking forward to using my statistical analysis skills and writing up study findings. Well, what I found was quite different. This was more of a “behind the scenes” scenario and I then began to understand and appreciate the support, facilitation and training that goes into delivering a research study.  

Working with the Business Intelligence team, I was involved in providing feedback on the open data platform from a user’s perspective. These resources are designed to inform and support researchers in designing, setting up and delivering their studies and provide loads of information for researchers and other stakeholders. I also worked with the key facilitator of the internship programme on the BI team, Dr Shamaila Anwar on a project on improving participation of ethnic minority communities in research, a subject I am very passionate about. I worked on designing information materials to improve research awareness and participation among underserved communities.  

Dr Shamaila Anwar found any and every avenue to get the interns engaged in mutually beneficial experiences, building networks and seeking ways to keep us engaged with work that is of interest to each of us. Many thanks to her drive and determination, both interns got the opportunity to extend the internship period at NIHR to continue to learn and contribute to the organisation’s work. 

I have picked up valuable transferable skills in interpersonal communication, using Google Suite and other graphic applications and enjoyed working with the team. I have also been inspired to explore and learn a programming language – Python. 

I had numerous fora to participate in events of interest to me, especially around Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement (PPIE) and improving ethnic diversity and inclusion in research. 

Building networks through HDR UK events

  • I recently joined an insight and experience panel on a charity through a contact I made during the HDR UK Involve and Improve co-production week events.  
  • I joined HDR UK voices, a forum for public involvement in research.  
  • Following a recommendation from a member of the BI team at NIHR, I will be observing a Research Ethics Committee meeting next month, giving me more exposure to the activities behind research delivery.  
  • My HDR UK mentor Vicky Hellon was also supportive and helpful in pointing me to some useful resources to develop my data science/programming skills. 
  • The team challenge was a great collaborative activity and I enjoyed working with members of the team as we all brought different skills to the table. 
  • The HDR UK career talks were particularly inspiring, motivational, and impactful. From learning a key distinction between a career and a job, to exploring different pathways into health data science, there was always something to learn. I had “light bulb” moments as the talks were delivered, and found experiences in the presenters’ backgrounds that resonated with me.  
  • The interesting concept of data-enabled clinical trials that I came across at one HDR UK event is something to keep in mind going forward. 

Final words. . . 

I am eternally grateful for being selected to be part of this programme as it has opened up a world of opportunities for me. I am mighty proud to be part of the first cohort of Health Data Research UK Black health data science interns! 

I commend the Health Data Research UK and the Alliance organisations for walking the talk and actively contributing to increasing diverse ethnic representation in health data science and research through this unique internship programme.