I attended the HDR UK Summer School 2020 which took place only 2 weeks ago.  At first, I wasn’t sure what to expect of the meeting, although the blog posts from last year’s Summer School (SS2019) looked very encouraging.

What made the meeting different to last year, was the fact that this year, the HDR UK Summer School took place online, so everyone could  log in via Zoom and attend the meeting from the comfort of their own office or simply from their living room. The inaugural lecture was delivered by Rhos Walker, Chief Science Strategy Officer and  Georgina Moulton, Director of Learning and Development, who communicated with us prior to the event ensuring that we could make the most of the time spent during SS2020. From the start you could sense that this was going to be a good 4 days!

On day one, all participants had a chance to present their current research project by giving a three minute presentation in focused groups. This format allowed the participants to get to know each other and it gave a unique networking opportunity. Panelists and participants both had the opportunity to ask questions at the end of each session, which really helped the sense of learning as a team. HDR UK invited us to go through an online module on communicating research to the non scientific audience. The module was interactive and prepared by Dr Jon Copley, Associate Professor of Ocean Exploration and Public Engagement who is a well known presenter of science. The takeaway message from this online module was ‘the inverted triangle’ and ‘ the hook’. You can find out more about both of these and what they mean for researchers by clicking the link here.

Day two of the summer school was filled with plenty of practical lectures and tutorials on improving communication skills and how to ensure that dissemination of our research reaches the largest audience. We had a fantastic tutorial by YouTube science star, broadcaster and presenter Greg Foot on  how to plan, shoot and share communication tools such as videos in respect of research. These were very practical tips – starting with how it’s best to record your voice under the duvet, to ensure studio quality recording  to the more creative process of coming up with the right title for your video to ensure that  the web users will pick your  video out of thousands others.

During the Summer School, we had an amazing opportunity to listen to leaders in health data research delivering lectures on core values of research – all of the energy that goes into data preparation and data analysis serves the research and leads to improving people’s lives. The most important takeaway message from this section was the importance of the reproducibility, transparency and practical applicability of health data research.

My personal highlight of the Summer School was the ‘Collabarathon’. Participants were divided into groups of 4-5 researchers and were asked to deliver a complete research proposal including aims, research questions, methods and justified budget. This was an absolutely brilliant exercise. We could test all the skills that were mastered during days one and two.  The organisers divided us into groups based on our skills and research interests. My team consisted of senior research scientist Dr Sam Cox, PhD (Digital Research Service, University of Nottingham), clinical pharmacist Bruce Burnett (PhD researcher, Swansea University), a software engineer Albert Navarro Gallinad (PhD researcher, Trinity College Dublin) and myself  Alicja Jasinska-Piadlo – cardiology registrar and PhD researcher in data analytics from Ulster University. We had dedicated sessions to design our study and we could call help from experienced researchers who entered our discussion room frequently to ensure we could make the most out of their expertise. Colin McCowan, Professor in  Health Data Science from  University of St Andrews gave us feedback on the importance of our subject. We planned to use Natural Language Processing method to create in the future tailored invitation letters to boost bowel cancer screenings attendance. Sinduja Manohar, commented on our plans on how we were going to involve Public and Patient (PPI) representatives. On the final day we delivered our presentation and pitched for funding in front of Phil Quinlan, Head of Digital research Services from University of Nottingham, Paul Taylor, Professor of Health Informatics, from UCL, Sinead Brophy, Professor of Public Health from Swansea University and Georgina Moulton, Director, Learning & Development, HDR UK….and we won!

The Summer School was closed by Andrew Morris, Director, Health Research UK with hope that next year we will be able to meet face to face thanks to the enormous effort of researchers working hard in tackling the global pandemic that we all found ourselves unexpectedly.


Dr Alicja Jasinska -Piadlo is a Public Health Agency Doctoral Research Fellow.  Dr Jasinska – Piadlo took time out of her cardiology training  to complete a PhD project on application of machine learning on large scale heart failure databases from HSC trusts in NI.