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My research internship at AMRC

Charlotte Pelekanou is a PhD student from the University of Manchester who has been working as a Research Intern for the past three months. Here she provides an overview of what she has been up to during her time at AMRC.

I decided to undertake an internship with AMRC to see the other side of the fence of medical research funding from a researcher perspective. Before undertaking my internship I was part way through a PhD on the effects of body clock disruption on obesity at the University of Manchester. As my three months at AMRC are somehow drawing to a close I thought I would reflect on the key things I have learnt during my time in the research team.

Impact means more than publications and conference posters/talks

I joined AMRC at the start of their annual data collection where members are requested to submit the previous year’s research expenditure and grant portfolio. As the research intern I was in charge of collating all the data received. Firstly I was really impressed by the vast quantity of data received and processed by a small team (with further processing work to be done after I have left) in order for AMRC to show a complete representation of charity medical research funding in the UK. Coming from my Manchester research bubble, it was also really interesting to see the vast differences in institutions funded as well as how much and what charities fund, both in research/institution grants and even public engagement projects.

In addition to looking at charity research expenditure and grants data, I gained a better understanding of how charities are looking at and thinking about impact from the research they have funded via a number of events and meetings including the Essential Research Management Workshop and Impact and Evaluation Masterclass. Before starting at AMRC I would have said my impact aims as a PhD student were presenting my data in the form of talks, posters and publications with the Holy Grail of research being a Nature publication. Now I understand more that times are changing and there is a shift away from the traditional number and impact factor of publications to a wider impact including public engagement, influencing policy and intellectual property.

There is also a shift being largely driven by the funding world from the ‘publish well or don’t publish at all’ culture to an environment where all results are encouraged to be published on platforms such as Wellcome Open Research  to improve reproducibility and reduce research waste. As a researcher, I am often frustrated by the lack of methodology details available in papers and researcher unwillingness to publish null or negative data so I am really excited about this new initiative and the possibility of AMRC starting up an equivalent platform for their members. Reflecting back on my experience at AMRC, it will be really interesting to see whether the drive by funders and the European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity leads to a change within my academic environment across the remaining years of my PhD.

Citizen science is being utilised in health research

In addition to data collection, I was lucky enough to be involved in the initiation of the AMRC drive towards digital health by helping with the AMRC Delving into Digital event held at Google. With 50% of online banking taking place on a mobile and 1 in 20 searches on google being health related, seeing how charities and technology companies are utilising digital technology to collect research data or improve patient wellbeing was really interesting.

As I was unaware of digital health before starting with AMRC I was really impressed to see that citizen science is being translated into health research. This was excellently demonstrated by Alzheimer’s Research UK collecting an impressive equivalent of 1,170 years’ worth of data within two weeks by developing their Sea Hero Quest app to gamify dementia. It was also great to see how charities are utilising pro bono partnering with industry to create tools such as Autistica’s hackathon to turn a large and complicated paper toolkit into an easy to use app. Although there is still a lot of work to do surrounding collecting and using patient data, it will be really exciting to see the future development of more user centred digital health tools. Overall, in addition to extreme office envy, it was a really inspirational day full of great ideas and enthusiasm towards improving patient lives through technology.

All in all, my role as an AMRC intern was a really interesting time out from my research. I had the opportunity to develop skills in lots of different areas of AMRC work including blog writing, tweeting, creating surveys and an event app as well as analysing and presenting vast quantities of data. Sadly I now have to switch back from my AMRC cake and biscuit diet to my obesity research. Thank you AMRC for a great experience, your tea supplies will now deplete less rapidly!