Reflections on my placement at the Department for Transport

post by Phuong Anh (Violet) Nguyen (2022 cohort)

I began my placement in the Data Science team of the Analytic Directorate at the Department of Transport in April 2023 to gain access to datasets for my pilot research. However, I feel that my internship officially began in July, when I was able to become familiar with my work and knew precisely what was expected of me. I still remember the rainy afternoon when I went to the warehouse to collect my IT kit. It was quite a funny memory, and now it is quite emotional to pack and return my kit as my internship is over.

My project

My internship was an integral component of my doctoral research on “Using personas in transport policymaking.” I aimed to combine various data sources to investigate the travel behaviour of various demographic groups, and then use this understanding to inform transport planning and policy formulation.

I began by examining multiple DfT data sources, including the National Transport Survey, Telecoms Data, and Transport Data dashboard. I arranged meetings with several data team members to ask them about how they analysed these data in previous projects. I also had opportunities to discuss with members of other teams including System Thinking, Policy, Social Research, and Data administration… to learn about their work and the policy-making process at DfT.

Since the official release of the transport user personas report in July, I have collaborated closely with the personas team. I began with an examination of the methodology for developing personas. I also attempted to apply additional data science techniques to the same dataset (National Transport Survey) to cluster travellers into distinct groups and compare the results of the various methods.

DfT published transport user personas. (

I worked with the Social Research team to organise workshops introducing the potential of using personas in DfT’s work, such as Road Investment, AI Strategy, and Highway… In addition, as part of my research, I utilised the Social-technical framework theory to structure the transport system and then gathered data to present and analyse the interaction between personas and other transport system components. On the other hand, I learned how policy is formulated and I will continue to work with the Policy team to investigate how personas can support their work.

Some lessons for myself

About work

Working on the Data Science team, which is part of the Advanced Analytics Directorate, was an excellent opportunity for me to improve my statistics, mathematics, and programming skills. Colleagues were very knowledgeable and supportive. Through the team’s regular meetings and project summaries, I got a general understanding of which projects are active and which models and methodologies are used to solve the problems. Sometimes I found myself bewildered by mathematical formulas and technical models. Although I have studied Data Science in the past, which has provided me with a foundation in Data analysis and Programming, in real work data looked more complicated. The assignments in the placement have taught me how to overcome the challenges of dealing with multiple data types.

Working in Civil Service, I had access to numerous training resources, workshops, and presentations, including but not limited to Science and Programming, this course covered user-centric services, artificial intelligence, evidence-based policymaking, and management skills. This is why I regard my civil servant account to be so valuable.

I received numerous perspectives and comments on my research proposal thanks to weekly discussions with my line manager and multiple team members. Importantly, I learned how to present and explain my ideas and academic theories to people from diverse backgrounds, as well as how to make the ideas clear and simple to comprehend. I believe this is a crucial skill in multidisciplinary research, communication, and public engagement.

About working environment

This was also my first time working in civil service, a “very British” working environment. Even though I have more than five years of experience in the airline industry, it took me a while to become accustomed to office work. It could be because the working environment in Vietnam differs from that in the United Kingdom, business differs from civil service, and full-time office work differs from hybrid work.

In addition to the knowledge and expertise I gained, I learned a great deal about time management and how to use Outlook professionally to organise my work, as well as how to spend concentration time between multiple meetings every day. This was extremely helpful when having to divide my time between multiple tasks, such as PhD research, placement, and meetings with supervisors from various institutions. In addition, I believe that working in person in the office is more beneficial than remote working, having access to a larger screen. being able to meet and discuss with multiple people, rather than being limited to 30-minute meetings and a small laptop screen. Thus, I travelled to London every week. These regular catchups with my line manager/industry partner proved helpful because the industry partner was able to provide a realistic perspective and I was able to update them on my work and interact with other DfT employees who supported my research.

About my personal development

Since I began my PhD journey, I have experienced many “first-time experiences”, including my first time working in Civil Service. This placement is not only an integral part of my PhD research, but also provides me with a great deal of experience and lessons for my personal growth. It was so unusual and sometimes difficult, but it forced me to leave my comfort zone. I was confident in my ability to perform well, having had the previous experience of being an airline strategist in the past, but the new experience of being an intern, learning something new, made me humble and enthusiastic as if I had just started school.

My principal lesson is to simply DO IT, JUST DO IT. I believe that the majority of my depression stems from my tendency to overthink. There were times when I examined the data set and had no idea what to do. I was even afraid to send emails or speak with others. However, when I actually did what I should do – WRITE something and ASK some questions – and I saw results, I realised that that work is simpler than I originally thought. Then I learned that sitting in a state of distress and worrying about the future is ineffective in resolving the issue. I must take action and be diligent to see myself become a little bit better and better every day.

The summer was very short, and most colleagues took vacation time. Honestly, the internship was not “comfortable” in the beginning, but now I believe everything is going well. This placement is also assisting me in developing a clearer plan for my PhD project. I am grateful for the support and lessons I have gained from this opportunity, and I am considering another summer placement next year.

My Internship at Capital One

post by Edwina Borteley Abam (2019 cohort)

My internship at Capital One started mid-November 2021 and ended mid-May 2022.  Capital One is a credit card company originally situated in the US with two branches located within the UK in Nottingham and London specifically. I interned at the Nottingham branch over a period of 6 months, on a part-time basis.

The company has several departments and units. I was placed within the Data Science team which forms part of the wider Data group within the organisation. There are three main sections within the Data Science team namely Acquisition, Customer Management and the Bureau team. The Acquisition team concentrates on building models to score new credit card applicants. The Customer Management team focuses on managing and monitoring the behaviour of all existing credit card customers and credit line extensions and the Bureau team manages all data and information exchanged between credit bureaus and Capital One.  For my daily work, I was placed within the Customer Management team and collaborated on two related projects- (Onescore2 and Challenger Model).

The internship:

Onescore2 project involved creating machine learning models to manage the behaviour of existing credit card customers. I worked together with my manager to build models to predict customers likely to default on their cards over a defined period of time.  We used R (a statistical programming software) as the main tool for the project. The specific activities assigned to me on the project involved creating the R program files for executing the models, monitoring the progress of the models’ execution, collecting and interpreting model results, and updating the GitHub repository with project outputs. The previous knowledge and skills acquired from the Data Modelling and Analysis course in year two of my PhD helped me understand the technical details involved in the analysis and to carry out my assigned duties effectively on the project.

The second part of this project is the Challenger Model project and it involved building different models in Python to compare their performance with Onescore2.  The project was an exploratory study of different conventional models in predicting the likelihood of default. The Challenger Model project serves as a baseline to compare with results from my PhD work, which potentially could form part of my PhD thesis. As this phase of the project is linked to my PhD work, I benefitted from the guidance and input of my supervisor.  While working on the Challenger Models, I held periodic meetings with my manager, supervisors and other members of the Data Science team where I presented on progress and discussed possible directions for the project.  I also took part in weekly stand-up sessions where all associates within the Data Science team shared updates on ongoing projects.

My reflections:

Looking back on my internship, overall the experience has been insightful, an exciting journey and a time of personal development.  I have grown and evolved in several areas in terms of interpersonal and professional skills.

Upon arrival in the first week of the internship, my manager was deliberate to arrange informal meetings and chat sessions with other members of the Data science team.  These introductions and chats exposed me to a range of people in various roles and at different levels of leadership in the team. It helped to quickly integrate into the team to create new connections and meet new people. Despite being naturally reserved, I enjoyed the conversations much as everyone was friendly. I was encouraged to step out of my shell to interact with more people. During my interactions, I seized the opportunity to ask all the lingering questions I had on the topic of credit scoring which is also at the heart of my PhD research. Each person was friendly and particularly eager to answer all my questions and chat about the work they do.

Apart from the Data Science team, I had the chance to speak with other associates in other departments of the company and that experience was reassuring and enhanced my confidence at the workplace. I got first-hand experience in mixing with different people from different backgrounds in an office setting and learning to blend with them.   The conversations in the first couple of weeks opened up my understanding more on the details of credit scoring and credit cards. I got more understanding of how the different teams work together to make credit cards available to people and how customers are managed and credit lines extended. I had the opportunity to join major meetings and to hear updates on projects being worked on within the different departments of the organisation. This also gave me a wider view of other aspects of the business.    I was able to connect how the theory of credit scoring I had read in books and research articles played out practically in the real world through this experience.

During my internship, I worked both from home and the office.  Every week during the first few months, I worked three days at home and two days in the office.  I found commuting to work on time a discipline to develop as this was my very first time working outside of industry. Although challenging initially but got easier with time.  The regular catch-ups and progress updates with managers and my supervisor were sometimes strenuous and nerve-wracking, however, it trained my communication and presentation skills.

The work culture in Capital One challenges associates to give their best on the job but at the same time encourages relaxation and places such high priority on wellbeing.  Unlike other work environments, I was surprised to find several fitness and relaxation points like the gym, tennis and pool table strategically placed in the Capital One building to support associates. In addition, during my internship, the company observed a day of fun activities for its associates every quarter of the year just to have a break from work.  This shaped my perceptions about the working environment.

Capital One is the industry partner for my PhD and I was privileged to have access to their data for my PhD work. Through my connections with the team members, I was able to easily recruit participants for my first PhD study which I believe would have been difficult otherwise without the internship.  Overall, I enjoyed the internship and the experience has been beneficial not only for my PhD but for my personal development.



Reflecting on my placement with RSSB

post by Sam Smith (2021 cohort)

In Autumn 2022, I spent 3 months completing a placement in the Human Factors team at RSSB (Rail Safety and Standards Board). The placement was remote, but I was invited to come and see the office before I started. The office is in London and has a very modern but welcoming atmosphere. I enjoyed a morning being shown around the office and meeting new colleagues, followed by a couple of briefings to chat about the project and what my contributions would be.

The project that I was working on was looking at the Safety Management Intelligence System (SMIS). SMIS is a system that is designed to be a central data hub for reporting safety incidents within the rail industry. Specifically, we were interested in encouraging Train Operating Companies (TOCs) to engage more actively with SMIS. Initially, given my background in mathematics, I was tasked with delving into the data and uncovering insights that would encourage TOCs to invest more time into inputting all their incidents.

Despite finding some surface-level insights, it was clear that without some guidance from the TOCs themselves, I was searching blindly through the data. I made the decision that it was crucial to speak to TOCs to understand why they weren’t already engaging with SMIS and what their expectations were. I communicated with my team at RSSB, and we set up some meetings with TOCs. Over the next period, I conducted a series of interviews which were useful in understanding the perspectives of the different companies.

Each week my team and I had a catch-up meeting to discuss the work we had done and plan the next steps. It was useful to discuss the findings of my meetings and what other parts of the team had found so that I could improve for the upcoming interviews. Over a period of a month or so, I completed several meetings and made copious notes about the different perspectives. I then collated my findings and created a final presentation I shared with my team at RSSB.

During my placement, I used several different skills that will be useful during my PhD. I conducted some basic data analysis before identifying a fundamental problem with the task briefing. After identifying the problem, I communicated it with my team and proposed a solution that was feasible and sensible. In order to do this, I had to present the problem in a digestible and comprehensive way. I found that this was a daunting task to start with because I hadn’t been involved in an industry project before and I was unsure whether it was my place to suggest changes. Of course, the team was hugely receptive to my suggestions and that gave me confidence moving forward.

Another challenge was conducting interviews with industry professionals because it was my first time doing anything like that. Judging the tone of the interviews was difficult but I improved over the course of the placement. In the end, I felt more confident communicating with stakeholders, which is something that will be immensely helpful in my PhD. Something that I learned during this process was that each stakeholder had very contrasting views, despite their similar standpoint, so it is important to not assume any perspectives.

Overall, the placement was incredibly useful for me to see how industry works and to be exposed to new challenges. While the content of the work wasn’t directly comparable to my PhD, the skills I developed and the challenges I faced will help me complete the PhD. I am very grateful to the Human Factors team at RSSB for their support and guidance throughout the PhD. I would recommend anyone to get involved in projects where they have a good amount of creative license and responsibility as it can really help develop you as a researcher.

Robot dancer interacting with children – Feng’s internship

post by Feng Zhou (2017 cohort)

The robot dancer was one of four exhibits of “Thingamabobas,” a playful, sensory experience where participants meet and interact with a circus troupe of performative hybrid mechanized sculptures crafted from sustainable and recycled materials. The installation space is a place of wonder. It draws on the absurdities of British artists Heath Robinson and Rowland Emett’s contraptions, Calder’s Circus (1930’s), automata, object theatre, puppetry, and circus acts.

The robot dancer was shown in Lakeside Arts at the University of Nottingham. It attracted many families with children to attend.

We chose the low-cost robot arm – Ned as our dancer. It is also safe working with humans. The Intel RealSense Depth Camera was used as “dancer”‘s eyes to conduct facial recognization.

The fan-shaped zone is the range of the camera. It is also the zone in which children interact with the “robot dancer.” When the camera “sees” the face of the nearest child in the green area, it will dance following the child’s face. Since the “robot dancer” has a bad eye condition, it will be hard to tell whether there is anyone around when the nearest child shows in the purple zone. Thus the “robot dancer” will try to look around and search for children. And then, when children stand farther than the purple area, the distance will be over the range of the camera’s detection. So the “robot dancer” will fall asleep. During the same time when children go through “interacting,” ” searching,” and “sleeping” areas, there will be corresponding music being played.

There are still many points that could be improved such as increasing the interacting zone by increasing amount of cameras, switching professional robotic arms to achieve more sufficient movements, and decreasing the delay of interaction.

It was an amazing experience to work with artists and children.

My job was primarily on developing the robotic interacting system base on ROS, including developing the robotic interacting mode based on distance from the users, music playing etc. From this internship, I extended my skill set by learning the ROS system, which enables high flexibility in combining multiple devices into an integrated system. This enabled me to extend my six-axis 3D printing system, which is significant for my PhD research. During the process of developing the interaction mode of the robotic arm, I had a chance to work with dancers, who interacted with the system with dancing motion, through which, I got valuable experience working with dancers who are also aimed users for my PhD research.

One Giant Leap for My Future: Summer Internship Experience with NASA GeneLab

post by Henry Cope (2019 cohort)

Over the summer I had the honour of taking part in the NASA GeneLab summer internship programme. Despite previous plans to complete this in sunny California, the pandemic made it necessary to adapt the internship format, which I must admit was bittersweet. Nevertheless, I was incredibly excited to step into my role as a space biology bioinformatics intern.

Now, I appreciate right off the bat that this might raise a few questions, so I will endeavour to briefly break down the relevant terms as follows:

      • Space biology – This is the study of the adaptation of terrestrial organisms (e.g., you and I) to the extreme environment of space. Two of the main spaceflight stressors are increased radiation exposure and microgravity (0G). The knowledge generated from space biology is important for developing improved countermeasures, such as to reduce microgravity-driven muscle loss experienced by astronauts, which also occurs on Earth due to factors including muscle wasting diseases, or bed rest following surgery. If you are interested in learning about space biology in more detail, I can recommend this open-access review; it’s a very exciting time right now for spaceflight!
      • Omics – These are types of biological “big data” (usually ending in “-omics”, go figure) that tell us about the underlying functioning of different systems within the body. Of course, a classic example is genomics, in which your unique DNA sequence imparts traits such as eye colour. However, there is also transcriptomics, which capture snapshots of how activated/expressed your genes are at given points in time.
      • Bioinformatics – This is essentially analysing biological data, including omics, via software. When a sample of biological material is taken, it can be processed in the lab for different kinds of omics analyses and then computational methods are used to identify meaningful patterns in the data. Lots of programming! 🙂
      • NASA GeneLab – NASA GeneLab is an organisation that consists of two primary components. One is the data side, which is delivered via a carefully curated public biobank of omics collected from spaceflight missions (usually involving model organisms like mice), or from studies on Earth that simulate aspects of spaceflight. The second side of GeneLab is the people side, which is mainly delivered via international analysis working groups (AWGs) that work together to analyse the data within the repository. Spaceflight experiments are costly, so GeneLab’s open-science approach of increasing access to data and collaboration during analysis is important for maximising the scientific potential of these experiments.

With the definitions out of the way, I will briefly describe my primary project for the internship. Essentially, I was presented with several transcriptomics datasets that had been generated from RNA extracted from the skin of mice. These datasets were derived from mice that had been flown on different missions, with lots of other variables such as differences in diet and duration spent on the International Space Station (ISS). Skin is particularly interesting in the context of space biology for several reasons as follows:

      • In spaceflight, dermatological issues such as rashes are very common
      • Skin is the first line of defence against cosmic radiation and an important barrier against pathogens
      • Skin can be monitored using non-invasive methods like swabs, which avoids risks associated with invasive biopsies
      • Skin can act as a “mirror”, telling us about the underlying health of the body in terms of things like immune function and diet
      • Despite the aforementioned importance of skin, skin is incredibly understudied in space!

I had carried out some initial analysis of the datasets prior to the start of the internship, under the guidance of Craig Willis, who was at the time a PhD student at the University of Exeter and is now a researcher at Ohio University! Whilst I had prior experience with programming, bioinformatics was new to me. Craig very kindly showed me the ropes so that I would have the necessary skills to jump straight into the internship project. That said, GeneLab runs programmes for teaching bioinformatics to students at different levels, so having prior bioinformatics skills was not at all a requirement.

Just before I started the internship, I met Afshin Beheshti, who is a bioinformatician and principal investigator at KBR/NASA Ames Research Center, amongst other roles! Afshin was incredibly friendly so we got on right away. Throughout the internship we met weekly via video call, but we also communicated via Slack throughout the week. I strongly believe that a line of communication which is more direct than email is essential for virtual internships. During the internship, GeneLab also organised online networking events, which gave me the opportunity to talk to the other interns about their projects.

Following my internship, I have continued to work on the skin analysis project, and we are now striving towards a publication, which will include astronaut data (a rarity!) alongside the rodent data. I also had the honour of presenting some of our findings online at the public NASA GeneLab AWG workshop in November, and in-person at the Royal Aeronautical Society Aerospace Medicine Group Annual Symposium in London in December. As part of the continued work on the project, I have also been able to engage with the GeneLab for High School (GL4HS) programme. Several students who have previously completed a high school level internship with GeneLab are now working on tasks such as literature review and figure generation for the publication. An additional output is that some of the semi-automatic figures that I have developed for this project have been adapted to different datasets for use in publications for the Covid-19 International Research Team (COV-IRT), of which Afshin is president.

Ultimately, I am very happy to have completed an internship with GeneLab. I’ve developed some great relationships along the way, which have continued past the scope of the internship. In particular, I’d like to thank Sam Gebre for organising the internship, Afshin Beheshti for being an excellent supervisor, and Sigrid Reinsch, Jennifer Claudio, Liz Blaber and the students involved in the GL4HS programme. If you wish to know more about my project or have questions about space biology in general, please feel free to reach me at:





Virtual organisations, virtual internships

post by Vincent Bryce (2019 cohort)

This is a brief reflection on the part-time, virtual internship I carried out as part of my first year at the Horizon CDT, with Orbit RRI. ORBIT, the Observatory for Responsible Research and Innovation in ICT is a spin-out company of Oxford and De Montfort Universities resulting from an EPSRC project, and aims to promote a culture of responsible research and innovation in information and communications technology and other areas of technology, research and innovation.

Image (c) Pablo Amargo, New York Times 2019

As a mature student, a virtual internship with a virtual organisation provided an interesting opportunity to reflect on the question, ‘what is an internship?’, by contrast to internships I had carried out earlier in my career, including in the Royal Navy (as an officer cadet) and in the investment bank JPMorganChase. As a Human Resources practitioner, it was also an opportunity to experience life as a ‘virtual new starter’, in common with an increasing number of employees who have been prevented by lockdown from meeting colleagues in person in the office.

The Cambridge Dictionary suggests, for ‘internship’

a period of time during which someone works for a company or organization in order to get experience of a particular type of work

Merriam-Webster gives us the following, for ‘intern’

an advanced student or graduate usually in a professional field (such as medicine or teaching) gaining supervised practical experience (as in a hospital or classroom)

The OED gives us, variously

A student or trainee (originally, a trainee teacher) working, sometimes without pay, in order to gain practical experience in a particular field of employment, or to satisfy requirements for a qualification.

Of or situated on the inside

Of or belonging to the inner nature of something; intrinsic, essential

Which of these best describes the experience, and just how intrinsic and valuable an internship ends up being, will often depend on the terms we can establish with the organisation (with the help of the CDT)!

As is often the case with internships, a project gave mine focus – in this case, a study into the potential effect of ‘RRI intensity level’ (a combination of Technology Readiness Level and relevance to the UN Sustainable Development Goals), based on original Orbit research and its increasingly widely used self-assessment tool. This was an interesting area for study that aligned helpfully with my PhD – should organisations consider different responsible innovation practices for different situations, depending on (for example) the developmental stage of a technology?

To carry out this project, I worked up a plan and objectives with the Orbit management team, carried out a scoping review, and organised research through an online workshop and pre-event questionnaire, with the support of the Orbit team. I sought and was fortunate to receive involvement from three blue-chip organisations who provided engaging speakers for the event to provide a sparking point for discussion.

The event in November 2020 saw 34 delegates from a variety of backgrounds engaging in discussion of the issues relating to responsible innovation assessment at earlier, or later stages of technological development and provided valuable material for my report. In planning and publicising the event through various networks and social media channels, we took care to make the event appealing, and with just the right duration to balance presentations, discussion, and comfort in the context of mid-pandemic ‘webinar fatigue’.

Following the event, I analysed the questionnaire data and workshop transcript to evaluate the overall research question relating to the potential significance of RRI intensity level for responsible innovation activity. My findings highlighted the relevance of the knowledge inputs to responsible innovation assessment alongside tailoring to the object of assessment, and the need to enable ongoing rather than one-off assessments. A presentation back to the management team confirmed that these would usefully inform a wider review of the organisation’s self-assessment methodology.

The following helped make the internship a valuable experience for me:

—making efforts to identify high-profile speakers for an event and early, broad spectrum publicity yielded a strong turnout for an online event

—integrating the participant information sheet and consent questions for research purposes into the online signup workflow for a workshop required care and ethical approval, but minimised barriers for participants while ensuring ethical rigour

—attending and reviewing material for management and Board meetings provided a valuable insight into the organisation’s priorities

For other Centre for Doctoral Training students, I would encourage careful consideration at an early stage, before and while confirming details of internships, of the personal objectives you want to achieve through the experience. If your aim is first-hand experience of what it’s like to work in a particular organisation, you will need as much contact as you can get with your supervisor and relevant teams working there. If interning with a virtual organisation, in a remote work setting, the value you gain from it may depend on how proactive you are in organising regular meetings, attendance at team or higher-level meetings, and potential in-person contacts. It is also valuable to negotiate an achievable project scope that benefits the organisation, utilises your skills, and potentially contributes to your wider PhD study. In this case, things came together and having interned previously, a ‘remote’, ‘virtual’ internship was an interesting and useful experience that contributed to my learning for the PhD.

I am grateful to Serena, Paul, Bernd and Martin on the Orbit team for their support, and to Microsoft, Arm Holdings and BSI for their proactive engagement with the responsible innovation assessment event.

originally posted on Vincent’s blog

Internship as a Cybersecurity Specialist

post by Neeshé Khan (2018 cohort)

I carried out my internship with Connected Places Catapult (CPC) between February to April 2021 on a full-time basis. I worked as a Cybersecurity Specialist in the Cyber Security Team within the Applied Data and Technology Directorate. I did this during the third year of my PhD – thanks to the efforts of my (super) supervisor who aligned the stars for me after my industry partnership lapsed.

My overall set up:

CPC provided me with ideal conditions that allowed me to get comfortable and take things at my own pace. This meant that I was able to work autonomously, trusted to perform my job to the best of my abilities and proactively look for and choose to work on projects that interested me. To discover projects of interest, I started off by speaking to a lot of people about their work and their vision for the projects to understand if there would be added value by adding in a cybersecurity element. This discovery effort was helped tremendously by my line manager (and some Urban Technology team members) who directed projects my way which made for good introductions and built my confidence.

I had regular catch-ups with the Director and weekly check-ins with my line manager to discuss how I was doing, projects that I found stimulating and my overall progress. Although my line manager worked at CPC three days a week, we quickly built a strong rapport with each other where we could just talk about things on my mind, seek her guidance on various aspects and have a relaxing conversation. She was also very responsive on messaging platforms and emotionally intelligent which meant that I knew she’d be there if I needed her, providing me with a lot of reassurance and making me feel safe in a new, remote environment.

As I was the only member in the Cyber Security team, I collaborated with the Software Engineering team but was primarily hosted by the Urban Technology team during my placement. There were the expected 9.30am morning catch-ups on alternating days that provided me with a valuable opportunity to learn about some of the other projects the team were working on. Team meetings on Mondays were one of my favourite things as it incorporated brainstorming using an online collaborative board and was one of the best applications of Action Research Methodology in a real-world setting that I’ve seen. Being a part of this team and the wider Directorate was really enjoyable and I’m hoping to see everyone in real life once offices re-open and maybe we can find ways to continue this collaboration.

My projects:

I worked on a range of projects with various teams. I mapped cybersecurity stakeholders which was a landscape scanning exercise to record entities within cybersecurity and the various resources they provide to the wider public. I also reviewed existing and potential projects pertaining to Critical National Infrastructure to identify aspects linked to cybersecurity that would be potential sources of collaboration. I fed in to CPC’s response to the governmental consultation on the cybersecurity of 5G Private Networks.

CPC was also engaged with ‘Homes for Healthy Aging’ that involves assistive technologies to help the aging population stay in their homes for longer. I advised on the cybersecurity elements of this project to help incorporate cybersecurity proactively in the early stages of their testbeds.

I produced a detailed report on Cybersecurity of Future Air Mobility and Digital Twins through a consultation with two leading SMEs in the digital twin space. This was a very exciting project with a 2 week turnaround (including the consultation with the SMEs). This report is due to be published on their website in the coming months.

And finally, my passion project which was suggested by the Urban Technology team was designing cybersecurity resources for local authorities and SMEs. This excited me as these segments are cybersecurity poor with limited resources and often struggle to get acquainted with the fundamentals of cybersecurity in a meaningful or practical way. I designed a game which explored privacy within data and two resources exploring the themes of Spear Phishing and Strong Passwords. The aim of this series is for the audiences to explore how cybersecurity is linked to the technologies they invent, implement and utilise for their clients. This would be a great resource page for start-ups and local authorities if it’s developed further.

Overall, I was surprised by how much of an impact remote working has if you’re starting a new position but I think I was very lucky to get an amazing line manager, a wonderful team (who made every effort to pronounce my name correctly and conquered it) and a really wonderful working environment that allowed me to feel connected despite never having visited their offices (which look really cool)!

Internship as UX/UI designer

post by Serena Midha (2017 cohort)

As someone whose journey so far has been straight through education, from school to BSc to MSc and PhD, exposure to life outside of the education bubble has been fairly limited. So, for the internship, I was keen to work in industry!

With the arrival of the pandemic in my third year, there was a fair amount of concern that the opportunity for an internship was sparse. Around the time when I was starting to mildly panic, there was an advertisement for a virtual internship as a UX/UI Designer. The company was a start-up called Footfalls and Heartbeats and they had developed a technology that meant that knitted yarns could act as physiological sensors. The internship was focussed on one product which was a knee sleeve designed to provide physiological feedback to physiotherapists and athletes during training. The product was still under development, but the prototype looked just like a soft knee brace which weightlifters wear and the data it could measure included the range of motion of the knee and a squat repetition counter; the product had potential to measure velocity but that was an aim for further in the future.

The description seemed tailored to my idea of an ideal internship! It was related to my PhD as my research involves investigating effective ways of conveying brain data to users, and the internship project investigated ways of conveying the physiological data from the knee sleeve to users. The description of the project also suited my interests in sport (and weirdly knees and sewing). I applied and was lucky enough to be accepted. The application process had a few stages. The first stage was the submission of a CV and personal statement. After that, I got asked to do a practical task which involved a UX task of evaluating where I would input a certain aspect of the knee sleeve connection within the app, and a UI task of making high fidelity wireframes on Figma (a design software) based on low fidelity wireframes that were provided. The task had a 5-day deadline and I had no UI experience. To be honest, I had never heard of Figma (or high fidelity wireframes or basically anything to do with UI), so I basically spent all 5 days watching YouTube videos and doing a lot of learning! An interview with a director and data scientist/interface designer followed the practical task and they liked my design (somehow I forgot to tell them that I had only just learned what Figma was)!

There were two of us doing the internship; I was supposed to be designing the desktop app and the other person was to design the mobile and tablet app. We were supervised by the data scientist who interviewed me and he was a talented designer which meant he often took on design roles in the company. He wanted to create an office-like atmosphere even though we were working remotely so the three of us remained on a voice call all day (muted) and piped up when we wanted to discuss anything.

With the product still very much under development and its direction ever-changing, our project changed during every weekly team meeting for the first 4 or 5 weeks. I think this was because the company wasn’t really sure where the product was going and thus they would ask us to do something, like display a certain type of data, only for us to find out the next week that the product couldn’t measure that type of data. The product was supposed to be a business to consumer product and thus we started designing a detailed app fit for end users, but the company’s crowdfunding was unsuccessful so they changed direction to create a business to business product. This meant that our project changed to designing a tablet demo app which showcased what the product could do. They definitely didn’t need two internship people for this project but we made it work!

The most stand-out thing to me about the whole internship was the lack of market research within the team – I don’t think there was any! The product was designed for professional athletes and physiotherapists, yet I really couldn’t see how the two main sources of data it could measure would be useful for either party. I was pretty sure athletes wouldn’t want an app to count their reps when they could do it in their heads and I was pretty sure that physios were happy measuring range of motion with a plastic goniometer (and patients with swollen knees wouldn’t be able to fit on the knee sleeve). I raised these points and the company asked me to speak to my personal physio and his feedback was that he would have no use for the knee sleeve; however, the company decided to carry on with these functions as the main focus of the knee sleeve measurements and I think this was because measuring this data was most achievable in the short term. The whole thing was proper baffling!

However, by the end of the internship we had produced a really nice demo app. I had learned a lot about design in terms of how to design a whole app! We generally started with sketches of designs which then were digitised into low fidelity wireframes and then developed into the high fidelity end version. I also learned about some really helpful tools that designers use such as font identifies and colour pallet finders. We produced a design document which communicated in detail our designs to the engineers who were going to make the app. And I had a very valuable insight into a start-up company which was chaotic yet friendly.

My supervisor on the project was great to work with. He made sure we got the most out of the internship and had fun whilst doing it, and he created a very safe space between the three of us. The company had a very inclusive and supportive atmosphere and they made us feel like part of the team. I think the product has a lot of potential but needs developing further which would mean a later release date. I’m most looking forward to seeing what happens with the knitted technology sensors as they can have many potential applications such as in furniture or shoes.



Lessons I learned from my internship

post by Harriet Cameron (2018 cohort)

Hi everyone! I hope you are all doing well, staying safe, and findings ways to care for yourself and your support networks during the apocalypse. I am going to talk a little bit about my internship that I completed in June 2020. I offer three (+1) lessons that I have learned throughout, in the hopes that they will be useful for readers still deciding when, where, and how to do their internships.

My internship was undertaken with my industry partner – the Nottingham Contemporary [4] – part-time over nine months. Starting in September 2019, I joined the small team working on the CAMPUS study programme [5]. I worked one day a week three times a month, and four days a week once a month. CAMPUS was designed as a city-wide programme aiming to bring together folks with a wealth of different backgrounds and perspectives to discuss critical pedagogies each month in venues and contexts across Nottingham. We organised speakers from all over the world to come to Nottingham and each deliver a three-day workshop to a group of 19 participants (who attended all seven workshops offered). We had seven amazing speakers planned, including Quinsy Gario [3], Gurminder K Bhambra [1], and Céline Condorelli [2].

CAMPUS offered a wide variety of experiences, stemming from both the opportunities it presented and the barriers and problems that arose throughout the nine months. Each month I was able to interact with the CAMPUS cohort, who ranged from curators, to lawyers, to artists, to unionists etc.; in order to swap and discuss our perspectives and life experiences. Each month I also met one of the seven faculty members co-facilitating the workshops and heard from their expertise. In fact, I would argue that the greatest part of this internship for me was precisely this opportunity to interrogate different critical pedagogies; some that I had explored before, some that I hadn’t, and none that I had explored in as much depth with as much passion as demonstrated by the speakers. One in particular that really sticks out to me was Gurminder K Bhambra’s talk about de-colonialising the university. After listening to her public talk and spending three days delving deeper into the concepts she brought up, I ended up completely re-evaluating everything I knew about and had experienced during my own journey through education. Quinsy Gario’s week was much the same, taking us through his experiences in art and activism and inspiring me to ask uncomfortable questions of my own life and cultures.

As well as offering opportunities, these amazing interactions came with their own challenges as well. It is easy to stop critically questioning and reflecting when you find your corner of academia to hunker down in – when you find the place that reflects the beliefs and values you brought in with you and are often, at least in my case, representative of the opinions of much of your wider support group outside the Ivory Tower. This isn’t some great fault of the human experience, I would personally attribute it to a kind of neural exhaustion – life and work (read: capitalism) takes up so much of our capacity that it’s hard to find space to ask hard questions and time to introspect and reflect comprehensively on the things you learn and see. So suddenly finding yourself surrounded by brilliant minds, with both the time and space to delve deep into topics that were at times, admittedly, uncomfortable to discuss, was hard but incredibly valuable.

The first lesson I learned and offer out to you, then, is this:

Be uncomfortable. How many times in your life are you offered three months to try something completely new? Take the opportunity to do something you haven’t done before, to try out new skills and ask new questions and meet new people. There is value in leaving your comfort zone.

Nine months is a long time to be included with an organisation or involved in a project. Over that time, I came across a number of barriers, setbacks, and obstacles that required working around. The very first month we were due to meet the cohort for the first time, the speaker sadly fell ill and had to cancel last minute.  The head of our CAMPUS team unexpectedly left the organisation quite early into the programme, causing no small amount of confusion. Then, of course, the world ended and we could no longer meet up each month with far less notice to adjust than you would expect a pandemic to offer. Amidst these things were peppered other, smaller crises, inevitable in any project as ambitious as CAMPUS. Finding places for speakers to stay, keeping the cohort comfortable and cared for, broken heating systems, difficult communication, managing budgets, traversing tensions, and so on and so on and so on.

Navigating through these obstacles was difficult. As someone relatively unused to the organisation, it was hard to know how best to tackle some of these issues as they arose, especially when some months they came so thick and fast there was no time to even address the first issue before numbers two, three, and four were rearing their heads and demanding instant attention. The hours were long, with workshop weeks regularly lasting up to 60 hours (once you factor in my regular PhD work, which we must, as I was doing the internship part time). Nevertheless, these experiences were invaluable to me, and retrospect goes a long way in learning about your own capabilities and strengths. I’ve honed and practised skills, some of which I haven’t drawn on in a number of years, and some of which came to me as new at the beginning of the PhD. Time keeping, multi-tasking, budget codes, accountability, event planning, and most importantly of all for this scenario; flexibility. I had to learn how to let go of things that became less important than other tasks – something my brain, with its tendency towards hyper-focus, actively loathes. I had to learn to re-prioritise on the fly and find creative ways to achieve tasks that fell through when attempted in the standard manner. I had to be willing to drop entire activities that had been organised weeks in advance because they were no longer feasible and advocate for alternative arrangements – even when those alternatives didn’t feel quite as good or as in control. Speaking of which, I had to learn to cede control at points and listen to the desires of other parties – something I have had plenty of practise with but still find incredibly difficult when organising big events. All of these things have made me, I believe, a better researcher and better prepared to tackle the unpredictable and oftentimes chaotic world of academia.

So here is the second lesson I offer:

Be flexible. If you are wired anything like me, or maybe even if you aren’t, flexibility can be something at best inconvenient and at worst slightly traumatic. My anxious brain hates when things don’t go to plan but this is a wildly valuable skill, something that can be utilised in all walks of life (even beyond your professional world) and actually, sometimes it can lead to even better experiences. Ironically, despite my natural aversion to change, I’m a huge fan of spontaneity. Once I recognise that something isn’t working, I love the feeling of diving in the deep end and really, genuinely mixing it up. And I cannot advocate enough how many wonderful things can happen when you’re willing to take a leap of faith and do something different.

This flexibility is something that comes by necessity when working in an inter-disciplinary setting. For me, I came from the world of human geography, into computer science, and dived head first into working an internship at an art gallery. As some of you will be all too painfully aware of, when you try to explain your interdisciplinary PhD to someone new, one of the first things they might ask is ‘how does all of that go together?’. At this point you get to make the decision of taking three hours trying to explain how, for example, geography, computer science, and art go together; or you can crack a joke and go home and cry because when you laughingly responded “I’ll let you know when I work it out” you weren’t kidding and some days it feels like you never actually will work it out. Is that relatable?

The point is that for some of you, just like it did for me, starting an internship in a brand new area that you may only have tangentially or informally accessed before can be thoroughly overwhelming. Those questions about how everything goes together can be enhanced fourfold when you start working in this new area and you’re introduced to all the complexities and nuances and politics that you hadn’t even gotten around to considering yet. When I first got to the Nottingham Contemporary I felt completely lost. I’d never worked in an office before, I didn’t know the arts sector, I’d never used the programmes or software they were using, and I didn’t know the acronyms. But I quickly picked up the bits I needed to (with a lot of help from a wonderful lady named Mercé) and I enjoyed the challenge. Submerging myself in one arts organisation quickly allowed me to make connections with other organisations in Nottingham. I met some really interesting people and we had some fantastic conversations about my PhD. Some of those people and organisations have even gone on to help me further with my research, offering venues and advertising and participants.

So my third piece of advice is this:

Be immersed – In some ways, this is where some of the most important value of the internship comes from – from being able to absorb yourself in this new culture and learn about the reality of it, and not just what you can gleam from choice snippets of media or literature. From networking and meeting people, to cementing your new understanding in the actual contexts that the research you’re doing will ultimately impact – there’s no better way to understand the role of your research than to become immersed in that world.

When I completed the first draft of this blog with just the three pieces of advice in it, I spent a full weekend uhming and ahhing over whether or not it was disingenuous of me to leave it on such a note. Because I also have advice to offer from the things that went wrong throughout this process – the things I wish I’d done differently. The tea, if you would, which may cast a less rose-tinted light on this internship and hopefully may work as a warning for you. Detailed below is a combination of my own failings, failings from the organisation, and failings of no-one in particular which nevertheless deeply affected the internship as an experience.

When I first started the internship, I didn’t set up enough boundaries, I didn’t talk enough about my expectations for the internship and my skills that I could offer. I was so excited about the programme and getting involved in the organisation that I didn’t stop to question what precisely my role would be. And what that resulted in was an internship in which I feel like I wasted huge chunks of those nine months printing agendas and booking hotels – valuable skills to be sure, but skills I already possessed and skills which, more importantly, don’t bear any relevance to the PhD. This failure on my part also meant that when the head of the CAMPUS team unexpectedly left, there was no-one left on the team who really knew who I was or what I could offer. Now this one is a little bit ‘six of one, half a dozen of another’, because whilst I didn’t then go to the next person and rectify my mistake, actually there were several months where it was massively unclear who was in charge. The person who moved on left behind her a gap that nobody seemed able to fill, and that left me floating in an existential puddle of uncertainty. This meant I had almost entire days where I would literally be sat twiddling my thumbs because there was no-one around to go to and ask for guidance. I made the best of these days I could, preparing several months ahead where possible and assisting other people in the office, but rarely – outside of the workshop weeks – did I have full days where I was busy. This lack of communication on my part, and lack of coherence on the organisations part, meant that overall, I found the internship to be incredibly frustrating. It also meant that when an opportunity arose to collect some data relevant to the PhD, I was denied because the person who might have backed the data collection was no longer there to support me and I had given up on searching for accountability. Although this final section is a warts and all revelation, I feel I should share this lesson so that you might learn from my experience and avoid some of the same pitfalls.

So this bonus piece of advice is:

Set boundaries – Just because you are working for a new organisation doesn’t mean that you can’t speak out and establish your needs as important. Some of what happened in my internship was unavoidable, but other parts could have been handled better if I had entered with the confidence to assert myself. Three months is a sizeable chunk of your PhD time, and you need to enter into it knowing what you’re going to get out of it.

So that’s it, the three-and-a-bonus pieces of advice I feel qualified to offer after completing my internship. Be uncomfortable, be flexible, be immersed, and set boundaries. I hope you found this interesting to read, and if you have any more questions about my internship or yours, then you can contact me at

Peace and love,

Harriet ‘Alfie’ Cameron


[1]          G. K. Bhambra. (2020). Gurminder K Bhambra. Available: (Accessed: 25/06/2020)

[2]          C. Conderelli. (2020). Céline Condorelli. Available: (Accessed: 25/06/2020)

[3]          Q. Gario. (2020). Quinsy Gario. Available: (Accessed: 25/06/2020)

[4]          Nottingham Contemporary. (2019). Homepage. Available: (Accessed: 04/03/2019)

[5]          Nottingham Contemporary. (2019). CAMPUS Independent Study Programme. Available: (Accessed: 07/05/2020)