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)!