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My health data internship experience by Wendy Jones

Wendy Jones details her experience on the 10000 Black Interns programme following her summer placement with BREATHE, based at the Usher Institute at the University of Edinburgh.

Wendy Jones pictured at desk with screen displaying BREATHE website
Wendy Jones was based within the Usher Institute at the University of Edinburgh for her internship

Before I started this internship I had very limited knowledge about how what health data research encompassed. My university course provided me with a solid foundation on why health data was important but if I was asked what a health data scientist did daily, I would have had no idea! Throughout the past 6 weeks, I had the opportunity to get an in-depth insight into the roles and responsibilities of a scientist by working alongside the BREATHE Hub at the Usher Institute based in the University of Edinburgh.

I was assigned my own health data research project focusing on the COVID-19 pandemic. On the advice from global health leaders, each government put into place non-pharmaceutical interventions including face masks, social distancing, self-isolation, and nationwide lockdowns. I was tasked to look at the impact of those interventions on COVID-19 infection, severe illness, and deaths in Europe. To do this, I used publicly available COVID data, and a programming language called R to format, analyse, and produce graphs. I had very limited knowledge on coding with R and I had never dealt with the vast scale of data - there were over 100,000 data points from over 120 countries! The dataset contained information on case rates, death rates, hospitalisation numbers, covid test numbers and vaccinations per day for every country.

By completing this project, I was able to develop two key skills. Firstly, my coding skills have massively improved. Ele and Steven who were both my supervisors were very supportive in helping me develop coding skills at a comfortable pace. Each week I would be tasked with an objective that built upon a skill that I had learnt the week before. Alongside regular video calls, emails, and feedback they both made it very easy for me to progress and learn new R functions. The second skill I developed was independence. As a health data scientist, you often collaborate within teams to produce research papers so it’s essential that you contribute by completing your assigned research. During my project, I quickly learnt that a key part of data analysis is trial and error. I was encouraged to use websites such as stack overflow, RStudio community (and YouTube!) to search for answers that could resolve error messages within my code.

Alongside my personal project, I attended the weekly team analysis meetings. This was fantastic because I was able to hear about all the other projects that were going on - I even had the chance to sit in on a meeting with Sir Patrick Vallance. All the interns also participated in a group technical challenge. This was a great opportunity to meet interns based in other organisations and collaborate on a chosen research project. In the challenge, we applied data science techniques to analyse a health dataset. Based on our results, we had to write a report and create a presentation summarising our findings.

Throughout the programme, HDR UK made so many opportunities available. I was assigned a mentor who helped me to network within the industry and I also had access to HDR UK Futures which is a virtual learning environment with a curriculum to extend my knowledge. There were many live events too - every Friday the intern cohort would have a career talk from an accomplished speaker. There was also a range of six different organisations that came to talk to us including the NIHR Clinical Research Network and The British Health Foundation Data Science Centre. Overall, I’ve had a fantastic time during my internship - if you’re thinking about applying for this programme, I would highly recommend that you do!

Watch

Video: Wendy Jones BREATHE internship
BREATHE Intern Wendy Jones talks about her experience as part of the 10000 Black Interns Programme, supported by Health Data Research UK

HDR UK Black Internship Programme

More about the Black Internship Programme from Health Data Research UK