I have a background in public health and nursing, having successfully completed a BSc in Nursing and an MSc. in public health at the University of Nottingham. Looking back, I can say I have always had a passion for making meaning out of the data that we routinely collect in the hospital and other patient appointments. For instance, when I was introduced to the apparent changes in the trend of the top 10 causes of morbidity and mortality in the world in the last 5 decades (a switch from mostly infections diseases to chronic noncommunicable diseases), I went back to my hospital and secured the data that we had to validate this claim. Although I ended up with incomplete data, I still managed to pull a few graphs together and presented them to the management of the facility, which they appreciated.

However, until I started the internship, I never really viewed health data science as a potential career on its own. Of course, I used health data, but specifically as part of my role as a nurse and a public health practitioner or just out of curiosity. At the latter end of my career before I started the internship, I was much tilted towards pursuing a PhD and getting into the lecture hall to train nurses and other health professionals as I thought I had lost a bit of interest in the frontline hospital work.

How I got into the HDR UK Black Internship Programme and my targets

I got to know of the internship from a colleague I discussed my career aspirations with. She basically tagged me on LinkedIn, and I did the follow up, applied, got interviewed and was offered a place at the University of Nottingham. The lesson here for me is that, if I had not discussed my aspirations with someone, I would have not seen the opportunity and I would not be here talking about it.

Personally, my aim for joining the internship was to get some exposure, get to know what health data scientists do and if I am interested in pursuing it further, I would get some mentors to help me explore the possibility of taking my career in that direction. All these targets have been met and I have gone further to acquire some amazing new skills.

My experience and takeaways from the HDR UK Black Internship Programme

In one word, I would say my time during the Health Data Research UK internship has been amazing! I was paired up with leading scientists and academics at the University of Nottingham, some of whom are working on massive nationwide projects tackling the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Philip Quilan and Dr. Grazziela Figuerro, who were my main contact persons at the University, were very welcoming and resourceful. Among other things, I got referred to courses on Observational Health Data Sciences and Informatics, and Data Standardization using OMOP CDM, which I have successfully completed. We also had the opportunity to participate in seminars where researchers on various health related projects came to discuss their projects and we explored areas for further research thereafter.

Aside that, the Friday takeover meetings hosted by Tammy Palmer and her colleagues at HDR UK where industry experts and career data scientists came to give a talk through their careers were very stimulating. I also had the opportunity to learn new skills in coding using the VS Code, data visualisation using Neo4j and a bit of HTML via the amazing virtual learning platform of the HDR-UK (Futures). I was also assigned to a career mentor, the amazing Dr. Alison Elderfield at the HDR-UK, with whom I explored my career options and even got expert advice on how I could effectively market my skills to potential employers.

How my HDR UK Black Internship Programme applicants  experience is impacting my career options post internship

I feel I am now beaming with a lot more confidence in my career prospects than before. Until I started the Health Data Research UK internship, I felt I was just a public health graduate searching for seemingly non-existent public health jobs, as I constantly received bad news from my applications. But this internship has opened my mind to a whole world of new possibilities. Aside the massive value that the new skills acquired will add to my CV and make me more competitive for roles in public health, I have been exposed to alternative careers, one of which I am trying to pursue.

Whilst awaiting the start of the internship, I took up online courses in data analytics using python, as I thought I might be needing those skills during the internship. Although I ended up not using my python skills a lot during the internship, they were instrumental in securing me a conditional offer for a level 7 apprenticeship in AI and machine learning with Cambridge Spark. Although I am still not sure if I would meet the conditions of the offer, I motivated by the mere fact that my application was deemed competitive, and I succeeded in the interview. I am thus looking forward to the future with a lot of hope and confidence now.

My advice to potential HDR UK Black Internship Programme applicants

The fact that you are aware of this opportunity and considering applying for it, is a good start. Go for it and you will not regret it. Keep an eye out for the call for applications and be sure to put in an application if you are eligible. There is a lot of skills to be gained.