post by Kathryn Baguley (2020 Cohort)
My internship opportunity arose from my ongoing work with DCC. Whilst working on another project in early January 2022, I was excited to hear the news that DCC was looking to initiate two large data projects. Hearing this made me wonder whether there might be an opportunity for me to experience some different work within DCC and complete my internship. Upon enquiring, I was delighted to hear that DCC and the CDT thought this would be a good match, and I was given the go-ahead to continue.
As you might expect, DCC, like many large organisations, holds vast amounts of data across many systems. The projects I worked on aim to enable more meaningful use of data for DCC, its employees, and service users. The work looks at aspects such as the accuracy of data, data migration, and the interoperability of new systems moving forward. At the end of the project, DCC hopes that having data in a better place can drive key performance indicators (KPIs). KPIs will assist with better planning, which it hopes will result in a better outcome for service users and generate much-needed savings for the public purse.
I completed my internship over three months on a full-time basis in the Information Technology team. I was excited to be a part of a new team, but it was reassuring that I had worked with some colleagues on previous projects. Overall, my role was part of a larger multidisciplinary team to assist DCC in achieving better management of its data, and enable more agile working.
Going into my internship I hoped for further insights into how a large organisation makes system changes, mainly around automated decision-making. I was also looking to dive deeper into understanding Microsoft systems and work more closely with my new colleagues in Information Technology (IT).
My internship plan was to liaise with IT, the project team and internal clients (various departments) to understand both the technology and the intended context for use. However, we quickly discovered that the scope was too broad, so I concentrated on the technology side and laid foundations to assist the context later. I prepared documents showing the work carried out for accountability of which also acted as a living document moving forward. I also gave ongoing feedback to the project and senior management teams. I recorded my work through a data protection impact assessment (DPIA). The document quickly grew to some 100 pages just to lay down the foundations. I feel the learning acquired here is something that I will definitely carry forward and use in my PhD writing. I am also reflecting on how the Council is carrying out these projects. I am thinking about how risks were assessed relating to automated decision-making and how I can expand my Peer Review Module output to integrate into my PhD writing.
My internship was fully remote, but I do not feel this negated my experience in any way. I felt fully integrated into the organisation and into the project teams from the very beginning. I accept that I may feel this way simply because of my pre-existing relationship with the organisation and colleagues within. It was helpful to me that I had some knowledge of the wider Council and basic knowledge of the IT systems. The experience did build my research skills in both a practical and academic way, since I had to use a combination of speaking with skilled colleagues and online research. It also underlined to me that I find research is much more satisfying if it can be done in a collaborative way with others, as it brings the topic to life. Moving forwards, I am now wondering how I might bring in the practical and collaborative approach to my work, so as to limit the usual loneliness a PhD can bring.
I thoroughly enjoyed the internship, and it is always a pleasure to work on projects where the people in the organisation are passionate about what they do and about doing the right thing. At the end of the internship, I was recognised for doing a good job, and this has helped me to build confidence in an area to which was technically unfamiliar.
On reflection of the module, I feel the biggest challenge was obtaining the right internship in the first place. I envisaged that the process might be more accessible in my case being a qualified and practising solicitor with several years of professional practice experience. In reality I found opportunities scarce, and maybe this appeared to be the case, owing to increased remote working in 2020 with the pandemic and less collaboration in general. I also had my doubts about the module and how I might make it useful for me. As someone with a professional career before starting my PhD, I was keen to ensure the internship gave me more than ‘work experience’ and provided insights that I could use in my PhD.
A further reflection I have is that while there is an emphasis on doing the internship early, I think it is more important to conduct it when the right opportunity comes along with the right organisation. I began to feel pressure to find and do the placement module from the start. For me, I did not feel I had enough detail to understand what I wanted from the experience in the first year. By my second year I did know more about what I wanted from the internship and I am very glad I did wait; the experience has definitely benefited me.
In conclusion, while the internship is complete, I am happy that DCC have provided me with more opportunity to continue working with them to progress these projects. The work carried out over the placement underlines for me the need for industry and academia to work together and how it can produce much better results for all. In particular, I am currently liaising with the IT team about building on the systems work, and risk assessments carried out in the internship.