Broadening Horizons in the Horizon Scanning Team

post by Charlotte Lenton (2020 cohort)

The Possibilities Were Endless

The industry partner for my PhD is the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) which is a member-based organisation working with organisations throughout the rail industry to improve railways in the UK. RSSB has vast connections with industry organisations throughout the sector which meant I could have pretty much undertaken any rail-related role in a whole host of companies to get first-hand experience of what it’s like to work in rail. So why did I decide to stick to an office-based position within RSSB?

In December 2020, the small but excellent, Horizon Scanning team of two at RSSB kindly came along to an online event that I organised with other members of the CDT to talk about their work and techniques used in horizon scanning. This presentation was well received by my colleagues and left me wanting to know more about how this technique works in practice, as well as how the outcomes benefit organisations within the rail sector. It was quite opportune that the team would be starting to do some horizon scanning work as part of the Rail Technical Strategy (RTS) refresh in the summer of 2021 which was around the time that I would be starting my placement. The RTS was the main industry document which helped to shape my PhD proposal throughout Year One of my studies. Following the initial training I was allocated as the lead student analysis for the RTS ‘Easy-to-Use’ horizon scanning work.

Horizon Scanning: Thinking the Unthinkable

Very few people are excited by the prospect of change, especially when the potential changes and their impact are largely unknown. As a horizon scanning analysis my job was to think about changes and the various implications that these could have on the rail sector. I was to explore the horizon for early signs of potential changes, collate information about these emergent changes, and think about how these changes could make a difference to the industry. In this sense, I was to think about the unthinkable and process this information in a way that would be helpful for managers to begin to anticipate the future.

Taking the RTS roadmap for the Easy-to-Use priority as a starting point, I began to search the internet for key terms relating to the different topics. Anything I found that I thought was an indication of something new, a change, a confirmation or just background information on one of the topics, I logged in an online spreadsheet. Each data point collected was then reviewed on a weekly basis at a sensemaking meeting where I discussed the recorded items with the horizon scanning principal. This was a useful exercise for us both as it helped him to get an idea of the types of things that I was finding during the scanning process, but it also helped me to justify my reasoning for logging the data points depending on their categorisation.

(Image: The current roadmap for the Easy-to-Use priority of the Rail Technical Strategy)

The Rules: There Are No Rules

Unlike academic research, the validity of the information source was not subject to much, if any, scrutiny providing it was an indication of a novel idea or potential change. The example that was used during training, which will always stick in my mind, was that an idea expressed in a blog post by a man sitting in his living room at 2am in Lagos should not be discounted just because of the source if the idea is an indication of a potential change on the horizon. Other sources with similar ideas may be found further down the line which validate or reject the ideas posted by this late-night blogger. So, for the purposes of information gathering even this type of blog post should be logged in the database alongside sources such as academic journals, newspaper articles, books, and television programmes.

Adapting to this unrestrictive method for capturing information and knowledge was a particular challenge for me as it went against everything I have been taught to do as part of my academic training. I was so accustomed to only using and trusting sources that are deemed valid by the academic community that I found it hard to log sources that felt ‘invalid’ as they were merely the opinion of one person in a blog that only a few people have read. This led me back to thinking about a module I had previously completed as part of my Masters in Gender Studies. In this module we discussed the inequalities that exist within the production and sharing of knowledge because of how the academic world is geared towards only listening to voices that have been validated and verified by our peers. Why do the comments of a professor from a top UK university matter more to the academic community than the words of a Black Feminist activist talking about her first-hand experiences of racial and gender discrimination? Whilst I am not suggesting that the academic community should start referencing every other person that posts their thoughts and opinions online, perhaps we, as academics, should begin to take a more flexible approach like the techniques of horizon scanning in our search for knowledge to gain a better understanding of the world outside of the four walls of academia.

Writing For a Different Audience

Towards the end of the placement, I was asked to start writing a report to be disseminated throughout the rail sector which highlights some key areas for potential change in the future. Unlike writing for a university assessment or an academic paper, this type of reporting needed to short and snappy whilst consolidating the evidence from many data points found during the scanning phases. In one sense it was quite like writing for social media where you must get your point across in as few characters as possible whilst still making an impact on your audience with a statement about how these potential changes could impact their work or service.

I think this type of writing is just as important as writing for journals and books for academics as social media can be used as a vehicle for disseminating research beyond the fourth wall and into the public domain in a more familiar and understandable way. I am not suggesting that we should all start doing Tik Tok dance videos to disseminate our research, but it does seem that social media remains an underutilised platform for communication with wider audiences. It is also only recently that I have started seeing webinars and training sessions being offered through the university to train PGR on how to communicate their research through social media. Needless to say, I will be booking myself on to one of the sessions imminently!

Broadening My Horizons

Overall, I feel that the placement with RSSB has given me excellent first-hand experience of what it is like to work within a busy team of researchers in an industry setting. I have been encouraged to think outside of the box and change my perspective in terms of what is considered ‘valid’ knowledge. The practical experience of using Horizon Scanning techniques and writing for different audiences has also improved my transferable skills available to me throughout and at the completion of my PhD.

I cannot thank Guy, Sharon, Mel, and the team enough for welcoming me into the world of R&D at RSSB with open arms and treating me to such a valuable set of experiences throughout my placement.

Drivers and Barriers to Digital Inclusion

post by Oliver Miles (2018 cohort)

Interning as an Embedded Research Associate with CityMaaS

 Finding the right internship – introducing CityMaaS

From July-September 2021, I had the privilege of working as an embedded research associate with CityMaaS, a London based start-up in the digital inclusion space. This opportunity arose after pitching my PhD at a Digital Catapult networking event for students and start-ups. I prioritised attending this event as I was especially keen to experience work in a start-up environment. In the weeks following, I was introduced to Rene Perkins – CityMaaS CEO and co-founder. We agreed that at the intersection of her work on digital inclusion, and my work on values-driven personalisation, there was scope and mutual interest for a research project uncovering the drivers and barriers to digital inclusion adoption. Over a series of conversations, we discussed aims and objectives, ultimately formulating some questions and a target population. As I continue to write up research findings, I’ll talk only very briefly about research method and content. The focus here is more on the process of co-creating the ‘right’ internship, doing research work as an intern, and working as an embedded researcher within an external company. After introducing key concepts and CityMaaS products and services, I’ll talk about research participants, rationale and outcomes, reflections on navigating a specifically ‘research orientated’ internship and plans for future work.

Concepts, products, and services

Digital inclusion is a far-reaching domain, but the focus of CityMaaS is specifically on applications of accessibility and mobility. CityMaaS software solutions include ‘Assist Me’ – a web tool for personalising the audio-visual and interactive content on websites; ‘Mobility Map’ – a mapping tool inclusive of machine-learning driven predictions of location accessibility and personalised route planning features; and ‘AWARE’ – an automated compliance checker, scoring and reporting a websites’ alignment with globally recognised web standards[1]. Improving accessibility online and offline is therefore, in a nutshell, the unifying objective for these solutions.

Who are digital inclusion solutions for?

People with additional accessibility and mobility needs – specifically those affected by conditions of visual, audio, physical and cognitive impairment – are ultimately the critical target end-users in terms of product interaction. Crucially though, they are not the clients: As a business to business (B2B) company, CityMaaS market and sell their solutions to public, private, and third-sector organisations with a view to improving their in-house digital inclusion offer; the general incentive being adding socio-economic value.

Why do corporate opinions and practices matter?

While the appeal of improving accessibility and mobility could/should be thought of as self-evident, if companies are to invest in bespoke solutions such as Assist Me, they need to not only be sure of its technical functionality, but confident it thematically aligns with their own conceptions of digital inclusion. Corporate clients therefore, were our population of interest for this work.

Research Activity:

My work combined designing, conducting, and analysing interviews with senior heads of digital from 3rd party organisations known to CityMaaS, with the aim of answering an overarching question, ‘what are the drivers and barriers to digital inclusion?’. Results – from thematic analysis of semi-structured interview transcripts, expressed as 10 value themes driving or hindering accessibility and mobility – would go onto inform the design of an ideation workshop (Fig 1).

Figure 1 – Digital inclusion themes

Interviewees and selected colleagues would then engage in specially designed accessibility and mobility solution ideation workshops, aligning features and functions of CityMaaS products with the 10 emergent themes (Fig 2).

Figure 2 – Software demo, product attributes & values-driven ideation exercise

Research Outcomes:

For CityMaaS, outcomes are aimed here at better defining the qualitative touchpoints for digital inclusion and discovering desirable uses for software, grounded in real-world values. For myself as a researcher of values-driven personalisation in the digital economy, this was a chance to explore emergent drivers and barriers as a values-orientated resource to digital solutions ideation in diverse corporate settings.

Reflections on navigating ‘researching’ and ‘interning’

There were several practical questions which required collaborative discussion with the CDT, most notably the nature of the partnership, data collection and storage, and my potentially conflicting status as both a doctoral research student and CityMaaS intern. We agreed the best framing of my status was that of an ‘embedded research associate’, as while I would be working alongside the CityMaaS team, my research would require university ethical clearance if results were to be useful to me in the wider PhD. As such, data collection and storage were conducted through university systems and protocol. I received no renumeration for my work with CityMaaS, with the prior agreement that research was explorative and not directly connected to business development activity on my part.

In terms of the nature of the work, the biggest challenges were those of project management, resourcing (providing interviewees, access to data) and ultimately ‘scope creep’. In terms of project management, mapping activities to a Gantt chart was personally beneficial, and I ensured that at numerous stages, there were deliverables which kept me accountable. For example, conducting initial requirements gathering sessions with CityMaaS business development and technical colleagues allowed me to hit an early goal of enumerating product features and functions, helping me to learn the product portfolio before interviewing participants later.

Delegation of activities also aided productivity where appropriate. As an example, my colleague in business development had much better access to interested and already connected corporate organisations than I did, meaning the substantive element of the internship wasn’t mostly generating participants.

The biggest danger though remained scope creep. Again, I found that effective project management and having short-term deliverables helped: I was able to complete internal requirements gathering, interview design, participant interviewing, analysis, and workshop design in the allotted 3 months’ time. Completion of ideation workshops though proved to be an ambitious final component; consequently, scheduled to take place in early 2022. While this remains realistic for me due to relatedness of the work to my PhD, if the project had to complete at any of the prior stages, outcomes were designed to be useful as standalone findings.

Conclusion & Future work

On reflection, I found the internship one of the most useful CDT activities for me in terms of both continued professional development and alignment with my own research interests. Moreover, I had never considered working in the digital inclusion sector before or had the opportunity to contribute to research in a start-up environment. As I complete workshops in February 2022 and write-up, I hope my findings are insightful to CityMaaS and useful to furthering my own understanding of values-driven consumption in the digital economy. I would also recommend the Horizon CDT network and partners at Digital Catapult, in terms of networking and finding bespoke internship opportunities.


[1] Based on the w3 (2018) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 https://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG21/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Based on the w3 (2018) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 https://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG21/

Reflection of Internship Experience

post by Vanja Ljevar (2017 cohort)

In today’s post I wanted to share with you some of the experiences I had during my internship with Boots, which took place from December 2020, to March 2021. The project I worked on was based on an idea that originated in Boots, a company named ‘winner of the Responsible Business of the Year’ – and for a good reason. The topic of the project is powerful, delicate, stigmatized and close to the heart of everyone involved in the project. It was called: Menstrual pain and prevalence of period poverty in England. The idea was that menstrual pain can be detected through the content of customers’ baskets. I had to classify products that would help us create a definition of menstrual pain and once that was done, I was able to expand the research and go from individual baskets to the level of English districts. This meant that we could measure the prevalence of menstrual pain, the correlations with other factors, such as deprivation and, ultimately – we could get ideas where period poverty exists. Once finished, this project was transformed into a paper that is now going through reviews and final touches.

Even though I didn’t physically go to Boots offices nor did I meet people face to face, I still managed to get a sense of intrinsic cultural values and underlying ideas that exist in Boots and the bottom line was: they really care. They care about their customers, they care about the optimal use of their data and they care about making a change. Considering the relevance of period poverty at any time and especially during an epidemic, it is needless to say this project was important. My results could potentially lead to changes of policies, big claims in the media and it was of utmost importance to get things right.

As it is the case with any internship, it is always one of the most exciting parts of Horizon CDT PhD: for those without real professional experience this is a great chance to learn about ‘the industry’, for those who (like me) already have years of working behind them, this is a chance to expand their horizons and make contacts. Unfortunately, my internship started when we were in the middle of a lockdown, working from home, isolated, worried and overwhelmed with already pressing PhD work. However, through all the ups and downs, there were lessons to be learnt during the 4 months of my internship with Boots. I decided to share these insights, as they came to me: stories I made through learning from mistakes, whilst coding, connecting the dots in my head or even painting my kitchen. 

So, without further ado, here is what I learned through the process.


ABOUT THE START: KILL YOUR DARLINGS

Every project starts with an idea of what can be done. 

However, if you are anything like me, you will start with *many* ideas.

But not everything should be done and nothing can be finished unless we prioritise.

There always comes a moment when we need to stop. Draw a line and say: no more ideas.

As hard as it sounds: sometimes we need to stop working on things that we enjoy, in order to focus on things that are more important.

In other words: no matter how much you love them – kill your darlings, because: no one will know what you do, until you actually do it.


This was the hardest part of my internships: applying data science to a complex topic means that there are many different ways in which we can create insights. However, I had only a limited number of resources at my disposal and in order to create meaningful research, some hypotheses remained just that: hypothesised. 


ABOUT THE BEST KIND OF WORK 

‘Crocodile tears’ come from the ancient Greek anecdote that crocodiles would pretend to weep while luring or devouring their prey.

But here is the thing: even if some tears look the same, research shows that there is a significant difference between tears in terms of their chemical composition.

Rose-Lynn Fisher took a series of microscopic photos that prove: tears of grief are different to tears of joy that are also different to onion tears.

So, here is my point: whatever you do, try to do something you truly believe in.

Whether it is a research project, a hobby or the job in the industry, the difference between people who really enjoy what they do and who do not is real.

Just as they can recognise crocodile tears, people somehow *know* whether your work and efforts are genuine.


I was lucky to work on a project that genuinely meant something to me. Menstrual pain and in particular, period poverty, and the idea that there are still women and girls who in today’s day and age cannot afford menstrual products is something that was very moving and close to the hearts and minds of everyone involved in the project. Personally, I believe that research can be the first step in changing the world’s biggest problems, but it doesn’t always have to be extremely significant. What it does have to be is: relevant to you. Therefore, when choosing (or accepting the internship topic),  be true to yourself, otherwise it will all end up in tears. (The true ones)


ABOUT TWO TYPES OF PROJECTS

Peter Thiel says there are 2 types of progress:

➡Horizontal progress — a type of progress that occurs from being a copycat. 

It can also mean an innovation of existing things, but expanding mostly in scale.

⬆Vertical progress — this is achieved by doing something new. 

Vertical progress is more difficult to achieve because it is an endeavor that was never done before.

Needless to say, we need both.

But vertical success is the one that gets you, well, higher.


I think it is very important to decide what kind of progress this internship should be for you. 

You will create value for a company, but you should also think about what kind of value you will create for yourself and your PhD. I was lucky to work on a project that interested me, however, it was completely unrelated to my PhD research. Therefore, I decided at the very start of the project that I will aim for vertical progress, creating something new, however – in case the project starts to develop and grow, I will (have to) be happy to give it up and help someone else continue the work. This is because I knew that I only had a very limited amount of the time on the project and that my PhD matters more. The truth is, some of us are inherently more prone to vertical thinking, but no matter how hard it is, we sometimes need to focus more on horizontal progress (in my case, finishing my PhD), than vertical progress (creating something new for the company).


ABOUT THE TOPIC

Not too long ago they discovered another painting, allegedly made by Van Gogh.

By many accounts, it wasn’t a pretty painting, not Van Gogh style and not something that would catch any critic’s eye.

But what was interesting about this, was that they really struggled to conclude whether it was a Van Gogh or not.

For the purposes of my story, it actually doesn’t even matter what it was in the end.

What matters though is this: during the investigation, the value of that painting was literally changing from one moment to another – from being worth several million (if it really is him) to virtually – nothing.

But the painting itself was always the same.

And this is the power of our perceptions.

Perceptions make us change our actions from logical to irrational.

And we rarely can estimate the real value of something only based on its functionality.


How important your work (or research) is, often depends on its perceived value by your stakeholders: the company, the government or even your supervisors. The trouble is – some topics can be extremely impactful, but other people might not think that. This is often where the power of communication steps in, and your ability to translate academic, ‘heavy’ content into something that others can perceive as impactful and valuable for them.

Ironically, the research about menstrual pain is so unexplored today because researchers did not perceive it as an important topic.

Many doctors do not perceive menstrual pain as important, because there is not enough research about it.

Many women do not perceive menstrual pain as something they should complain about to their doctors because – even if they do, chances are their doctors won’t perceive this as an issue.

Menstrual pain is not researched enough, because not enough people complain about it and treat it as an important issue.

And the vicious circle continues until we stop it and explain why this topic matters.


ABOUT STUPID QUESTIONS

One of the greatest advice I received recently was this: ‘Whenever you’re in doubt about something and you don’t know how to approach it, ask it as a stupid question.’

There are several reasons for this.

♟️Questions are always less threatening than statements that could be perceived as risky – particularly in front of people we don’t know that well.

♟️90% of the time everyone else is thinking of the same question and is too embarrassed to ask it.

♟️There is a lot of noise in our communication and asking dumb questions makes sure we land on the same page.

This is especially relevant during working from home when it is so easy to misinterpret something or simply – miss the huge part of communication we do not get via Zoom, by observing body language. Therefore, there IS such a thing as stupid questions – we should use them as our superpower.


ABOUT THE POWER OF TEAM

Anton Babinsky syndrome is a rare condition: people are blind or deaf.

But what’s strange about this is that these people are completely unaware of this.

And adamantly deny they are blind.

They confront the evidence of their blindness through lies they say to themselves and others.

I do wonder if we can find a parallel to this syndrome in the class of people who are clueless about their own shortcomings.

Some people are making mistakes, but they are not even aware of it.

Some clever people do stupid things, without even thinking twice about it.

Sometimes we simply don’t know what we don’t know.

But unlike Anton Babinsky patients, who suffer from a rare brain damage, we are able to prevent our own mistakes: by relying on other people in our team.

This is the power of constructive criticism and discussion – we all have a blind spot.

But a second opinion could help us realize it.


I realised the power of this during my internship when I was explaining in one meeting that we could extrapolate someone’s need for painkillers based on their purchases. I was about to make a wrong definition when the Boots project manager said that some painkillers have different packaging sizes and that could mean they simply last longer. Which why, of course, some women might seem like they do not need to buy painkillers, when in reality they have stacks of them at home. It seems obvious now, but I did not think of this before.


ABOUT PROCRASTINATION

During one work day I decided that instead of working on my final report, I would – paint my kitchen.

And there I was, doing a completely unnecessary job for 5 whole hours.

I was so tired in the end that I couldn’t do any other work and I just called it a day.

It got me thinking – why is it that it’s so hard to work sometimes?

Is it because we’re afraid of not meeting our super high standards – so we’d rather not start at all?

Is it because the circumstances are not ideal?

Or is it simply because we’re lazy?


I knew that if I really need a day off, I can just take it. However, I also knew that I needed to stop procrastinating and this was a strategy that I developed during my internship. I created so-called “microgoals”, where for each big task I planned to do on a particular day, I would create much smaller tasks and break them down as much as I could into smaller and smaller goals. Whether it was simply opening the excel sheet, writing a plan of action or even just writing the title – it’s still progress that I can be proud of. This is especially important during the pandemic, when the lines between work and free time can be so blurred that the work could easily take over a whole day and as a result –  seem like a daunting task the next day. This is why I tried to remind myself every day that every journey starts with a small step. And taking a day off to paint the kitchen is also an important step in this journey.


ABOUT THE END

Have you ever felt like you are at the end of your strength, but kept trying?

Whether it was that one more push in the gym or the final hour of your report, you went beyond and above what seems your natural limit and you persevered.

If you did, you’ve experienced something that the Finish call: sisu.

This is a word that does not have a direct translation to English, but represents the mental strength to continue even after you reach the limit of your ability.

The Finish created a whole ideology around sisu and they perceive it as the only thing that got them through the Winter War – and helped them regain their reputation and territory.


I know that many of us feel that 2020 has taken a lot from us. Whatever it is you do: writing your thesis, trying to get the data for that next study, planning your internship, or simply giving it another push to keep it all together in the midst of a pandemic, just remember the words of another war professional who knew the artistry of sisu: ‘if you’re going through hell, keep going.’ However, regardless of your situation, always remind yourself that everything we do during this PhD (including the internship) should be things we enjoy, things that teach us to be more competent and resourceful researchers and that in the end – one day we’ll look back at this short time we spent at CDT and think how lucky we were to have such a great opportunity.


If you would like to read more about my research on menstrual pain or just chat, just drop me a line at vanja.ljevar1@nottingham.ac.uk and if you would like to read more of my stories, visit me at instagram: @tryanglist

 

Dtree – Digital Global Health

Maddy’s Reflections

Post by Madeleine Ellis (2016 cohort)

Dtree’s Vision
‘Our vision is a world in which every person has access to high quality health care.’

Dtree’s Mission
‘Our mission is to work with partners to leverage digital tools and data to save lives. We will be as focused as you on your health system goals, while working in partnership with you to implement digital solutions to improve program quality and impact.’

Who are Dtree?
Dtree focuses on a number of different projects on digital global health. Current projects include: Sexual and reproductive health (helping women achieve their reproductive goals), maternal and new-born health (working to reduce maternal and neonatal mortality), child health (preventing treatable childhood deaths) and emergency transport (Where no ambulances are available). With field offices in Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar Tanzania, as well as Lilongwe and Malawi and management offices in Boston and Washington DC, Dtree’s projects are engaged in countries throughout Africa. To expand projects Dtree have conducted 2 million area visits and are continuing to expand their engagements. The underlying system for Dtree is based on three main philosophies: Innovation, implementation and Impact. They leverage technologies to support and improve program efficiency in the projects. They use high levels of experience to help partners replicate and scale high impact programs. Finally, they work with partners to continually measure impact and increase efficiency. The core that ensures their success is this incredible collaboration between innovative technology and strong relationships with expert partners and local communities. This project structure is responsible for the high levels of impact they already have and continue to achieve. In a nutshell, this is my main take away from the experience and is something I plan to rely on for all my future ambitions within the field.

D-tree offices which are shared with the Department of Health in Zanzibar

What are we at N/Lab working on with Dtree?
I joined a project on maternal and neonatal care responding to healthcare challenges in Zanzibar. D-Tree International has been working with the Zanzibar Ministry of Health to improve the delivery of community based maternal and neonatal care via innovative and award winning Safer Deliveries program. The project will also hopefully be expanding to include child health, looking at issues such as malnutrition. A critical component of the program is the analysis and use of data for decision making to support and design effective interventions. Using machine learning and advance analytical approaches to find higher risk cases of clients information sharing and education can be better targeted for allocation of limited resources.

Maddy presenting to the Tanzania country manager at D-tree.

So, what did I learn from the visit to Dtree in Zanzibar?

Popping the research bubble
The nature of PhD’s require an intense level of focus on one fine-grained topic. Within this process, that particular topic can become all encompassing; it will gradually start to feel bigger and bigger. This can make it easy to lose the context of your topic. This internship helped remind me that my PhD is a tiny dot within the field I am focused on. More than that, the field itself is also just a tiny dot in the grand scheme of things. Internships provide a wonderful opportunity to pop this research bubble, remind ourselves of the context we are working in and get insight into problem sets, methods and opportunities that we might not have even been aware existed before this. This has not only been an incredible thing for my personal growth through life, but also strengthened my PhD by allowing me to address some elements of my work with newly formed perspectives.  Importance of working with communities

Importance of working with communities
Another key take away is that the importance of working with communities and collaborating with related experts cannot be underestimated. I have always taken the importance of community collaboration as an essential for sustainable change in the other charity work I do, this experience with Dtree has taken that further and helped me to understand different levels of this and the application to academic research. Dtree has an iterative process of developing and applying technologies and programs with numerous assessments from collaborators at each stage. Anything you want to build needs to have the end used in mind at every stage and should utilise as much expert advice as possible on the way. While with Dtree we had a meeting with some of the field workers, the purpose of the meeting was for us to understand the context of the work and for them to understand the basic ideas of the applied machine learning. This shared knowledge allowed an extremely productive conversation about the future steps of the project. By understanding each other’s challenges and capacities we were able to reach novel solutions and approaches to the task at hand.There is a difference between the right solution and the ‘best’ solution.

There is a difference between the right solution and the ‘best’ solution.
This take away is linked to the two reflections above. Researchers working on a thesis are bound to have expert knowledge on a topic, combine this with the academic pressure of technical novelty and it is easy to become focused on finding that ‘incredible new publishable method’. In the real world, these complicated impressive methods are not always going to be the most helpful or appropriate. Sometimes the application of a quick simple existing model will provide the most efficient support for an impactful project. This experience has shown me the importance of addressing this conflict as early as possible in a project. What are the goals of each stakeholder, what do I want my impact to be? This has lead me to reflect on my own goals. Am I looking to publish papers and make mathematical advances, which can provide long-term large scaled impacts, or do I want to make simple technological applications to problems with immediate community impact. Actually, I think I sit somewhere in the middle, I want to be a part of increasing the capacity for long term impact and technical novelty but also I want to prioritize appropriate impactful projects at the present moment.

The future is now
Data and technology are advancing rapidly before our eyes, with every step forward technology takes; the availability of the previous steps becomes more and more accessible to problems sets with limited resources to make change. This is beyond a silver lining for development. Take for example the development of face recognition phone passwords. Before this experience, I wouldn’t have thought that holds much relevance to my work at all, but that’s not true. It’s the butterfly affect, the small improvement will move like a wave through the mobile phone industry making all previous models that little bit more accessible and affordable. Increasing access to these technologies opens opportunities, for examples improved data collection which can advance a project. 

Technology isn’t the only thing which is moving at lightning speed, the older I get the faster time seems to move. I found the work Dtree do extremely inspiring and it has cemented some of my future professional goals. This bridge between mathematical technologies and impactful social good developments is where I want to be. Life is moving fast and although it’s great to have these goals, all of these experiences and moments are part of my goals. As cheesy as its sounds, it really is a journey not a destination. My advice to other PhD students taking internships would be to use this as a time to be reflective, make time to think about the things you haven’t thought of yet!

Side note
I used to think networking was a bit of a buzzword… It isn’t… talk to EVERYONE you can. Ask their advice, ask for their thoughts, ask to hear about their journey and ask for their contact information.

FINISHING UP AT CAMBRIDGE

Post by Kate Green (2016 Cohort)

So the Michaelmas term at Cambridge has come to an end which means that I have finished my 3 month internship with the Trust and Technology Initiative.

A lot has happened over the course of three months and I would like to take this time to reflect on some highlights:

The Trust and Technology Initiative Launch; I helped cover the photography of the event as well as presenting my research.

 

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MCCRC Symposium – organised by my colleagues, this symposium and workshop provided me with some insight into the legal side of privacy.

Value in Personal Data workshop at the Digital Catapult – I attended a brunch workshop that explored putting a monetary value on personal data.

Misinfocon – as part of Mozfest’s programme this conference explored minsinformation in today’s society. This was particularly interesting from a public health perspective and the impact of misinformation on epidemics. I wrote some reflections for the Initiative’s blog.

Hannah Fry talk – I attended Hannah’s talk on her recent book on algorithms.

 

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USB-C talk from Google – this was a little too technical for me, but it was interesting to learn about the challenges of USB-C in laptop design.

Lunchtime talk with Prof Simon Schaffer – who talked about Babbage who didn’t invent the computer, but in fact replaced them…


Aside from different events, I met lots of new people from different areas from sociology to law, to computer science, to psychology.

I think this was a good time for me to take three months away from my PhD and explore different (but not unrelated) areas. It’s given me some perspective and a sense of where my PhD fits in the wider context.

In terms of work, I first of all started to explore the personal data downloads from social media platforms. I looked at the ease of access, the file types and device compatibility. I was interested to see how personal data downloads might be useful for social media users who participate in online health communities.

While this area was interesting, I wanted to make sure that the internship had a tangible outcome that could be useful for my PhD. I began to explore my interview data from my first study and specifically focused on a question I asked around ‘trust’. I had not analysed this part of the study because I was unsure of its relevance and usefulness, however, whilst at the Trust and Tech Initiative I felt like this was an opportune moment to explore it. I am hoping to write the findings up more formally and submit it to a conference proceedings in 2019.

When I shared the findings with my colleagues at the Initiative and it was felt that my exploration of trust through a transdisciplinary lens could serve as a useful resource for others entering the conversation. I have been writing up a report that uncovers one approach to talk about trust in technology and I use online health communities as an example case study. Once it has all been tidied up and formatted into a well-designed document it will be published by the Initiative.


Overall I feel that the internship was a positive experience; however, I am looking forward to focusing back on my PhD. The break was welcomed and now I feel it’s done its purpose. 🙂